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New test quickly identifies heart attack

By Alicia Chang
Associated Press / August 27, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - A new generation of blood tests can quickly and reliably show if a person is having a heart attack soon after chest pains start - a time when current tests are not definitive, two studies found.

The newer, sensitive tests give a much better way to tell who needs help fast. Each year, 15 million people in the United States and Europe go to emergency rooms with symptoms of a heart attack, but most are not truly suffering one.

Those having a heart attack need to have blocked arteries opened quickly to limit damage to the heart muscle from lack of blood.

Doctors currently have two main ways of diagnosing a heart attack. They can use an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to measure the electrical activity of the heartbeat for abnormalities. But that test is not always conclusive.

Two European studies published in yesterday’s New England Journal of Medicine found that the newer blood tests can improve early diagnosis of a heart attack soon after a person feels chest pain. The studies looked at four tests made by Abbott Laboratories, Roche, and Siemens AG. The Abbott and Siemens tests are approved for use in the United States.

“Until this point, we really did not have direct evidence that they improved overall diagnostic accuracy,’’ said cardiologist Dr. David Morrow of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Morrow wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal and has consulted for Siemens.

In one study, doctors led by the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, took blood samples from 718 patients who came into the emergency room with heart attack symptoms such as chest discomfort and shortness of breath. Doctors compared the accuracy of four of the new blood tests with an older test.

In the second study, researchers led by Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, studied 1,818 people who came in with chest pain. Their troponin level was detected by a sensitive Siemens test and a conventional test.

In both cases, the accuracy of the newer tests was 94 to 96 percent compared with 85 to 90 percent for the older tests.

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