A study published on Christmas day has shown that a blood troponin test could be a more effective way of assessing future heart disease risk than blood pressure or cholesterol.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and funded by the British Heart Foundation, shows the troponin test – currently used to help diagnose a heart attack – can also predict a patient’s risk of heart disease and death.

Coronary heart disease – the cause of heart attacks – is Australia’s single biggest killer, accounting for one death every 26 minutes. When heart muscle is damaged it leaks a protein called troponin in to the blood stream. Patients suspected of suffering a heart attack will often be given a troponin test to aide diagnosis, but the test has not previously been used to predict heart attack risk.

The study looked at 3,000 men with high cholesterol but no history of heart disease. Using a high-sensitivity test, the research team found that changes in troponin levels accurately predicted the risk of a person suffering a heart attack or dying of coronary heart disease up to 15 years later.

The team also found that by measuring troponin levels in the blood they could tell which patients were responding to the statins used to treat their high cholesterol.

They noted that taking a statin reduced troponin levels. Those whose troponin levels decreased the most had a five times lower risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease compared with those who troponin levels were unchanged or increased. Therefore, a decrease in troponin could indicate a patient’s treatment is working, whilst an increase could prompt a change in treatment strategy.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The hope from this new research is that we may be able to use this simple test earlier on to identify people at higher risk of suffering from a heart attack. Those found to be at higher risk could have their preventative treatments intensified.

“Before the findings from this research can be clinically applied, the usefulness of measuring troponin findings need to be demonstrated in a wider group of patients. If this confirms its value, the test could easily be administered by GPs during standard check-ups, and could ultimately save lives.”

You can read the full study here