New blood test helps doctors identify heart attacks quicker


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Posted Online: April 22, 2013, 12:37 pm
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Bushra Tayh, btayh@qconline.com
DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard there's a new test that can help doctors diagnose a heart attack more quickly. Can you tell me about it?
DEAR READER: A heart attack instantly is recognizable on TV and in the movies: The actor breaks into a sweat and clutches his heart. But in real life, a heart attack isn't always so easy to identify.
There are many different conditions that can cause pain in the chest and sudden sweating. A heart attack is just one of many possibilities, though one of the most serious. The main tests doctors use to diagnose heart attacks are blood tests and heart tests (the first of which is usually an electrocardiogram). The results of the EKG are immediate, but the blood tests can take hours to give results.
Over the years, different types of blood tests have been used to diagnose heart attacks. In recent years, the most widely used tests measure the blood levels of different types of a chemical called troponin. A heart attack kills some heart muscle cells. When they die, they spill the troponin that is inside them into the blood.
Within the first few hours of a heart attack, though, both the troponin level and the EKG can be normal. People can spend 12 to 16 hours waiting in an emergency room. That's a long time to sit there wondering if you might have a condition that could kill you, or if it's just a bad case of acid reflux that's causing the pain.
A new blood test may help speed the diagnosis. This is important because the sooner a heart attack is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. And the sooner treatment begins, the more heart muscle can be saved.
The new test you're probably asking about is a new high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T test that can detect smaller amounts of troponin in the bloodstream. This could let doctors identify small heart attacks that would otherwise go undiagnosed, or identify heart attacks earlier.
We know it's important for doctors to quickly diagnose a heart attack. But it's even more important for people with chest pain or other signs of a heart attack to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Call 911 right away if you have:
-- uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, burning, tightness or pain in the center of your chest;
-- pain, numbness, pinching, prickling or other uncomfortable sensations in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or stomach;
-- shortness of breath;
-- sudden nausea or vomiting;
-- lightheadedness or dizziness;
-- unusual fatigue, especially if accompanied by a great deal of sweating;
-- sudden heaviness, weakness or aching in one or both arms.
These symptoms don't mean you definitely are having a heart attack, but they do mean the risk you're having a heart attack is high enough that you need to get it checked out, and fast.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.
















 



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  Today is Tuesday, July 29, the 210th day of 2014. There are 155 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Col. H.F. Sickless informs us that there will be new organization of troops in this state under the call for more men.
1889 -- 125 years ago: James Normoyle arrived home after graduating from West Point with honors in the class of 1889. He was to report to Fort Brady, Mich., as second lieutenant in the 23rd Infantry.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany and Austria refused an invitation of Sir Edward Grey to join Great Britain at a mediation conference.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Dr. William Mayo, the last of the three famous Mayo brother surgeons, died at the age of 78.
1964 -- 50 years ago: One of the biggest horse shows of the season was held yesterday at Hillandale Arena on Knoxville Road under the sponsorship of the Illowa Horsemen's Club.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Davenport is like a gigantic carnival this weekend with the Bix Arts Fest taking over 12 square blocks of the downtown area. A festive atmosphere prevailed Friday as thousands of people turned out to sample what the Arts Fest has to offer.








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