Ask the experts

Is there a test to diagnose heart attacks in women?

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh

I am a 58-year-old woman and I had a heart attack two years ago. I’ve heard of a new test to diagnose heart attacks in women with increased accuracy. Can you tell me more about it? Should I ask to have it if I get chest pains?

Professor Peter Weissberg says:

This new test, which is not yet widely available, is called a high-sensitivity troponin test.

Troponin is a protein released by damaged heart cells during a heart attack. The new test detects much lower levels of troponin, and therefore smaller amounts of damage, than the one currently used as standard.

We funded researchers at the University of Edinburgh to compare the new test with the standard test. They did a study of more than 1,000 men and women who were admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh with chest pain.

Using the new test in the trial doubled the number of women diagnosed with a heart attack

Research found the level of troponin indicating a heart attack is lower in women than in men. Using the new test in the trial doubled the number of women diagnosed with a heart attack – women who otherwise may have been told their hearts were OK.

Researchers will now carry out a bigger clinical trial of more than 26,000 patients to find out whether identifying tiny amounts of damage with the new test leads to a better outcome for patients.

The study will show whether or not using a high-sensitivity troponin test, with a threshold specific to each gender, actually saves women’s lives by identifying them at a stage when doctors can intervene to stop a bigger heart attack occurring.

This study will take some time to complete, but if the outcome is positive, we’d expect the NHS to adopt the new test quickly.

It’s not the kind of test you’d ask for – it would be given in hospital if you’d come in with a suspected heart attack.

Professor Peter WeissbergMeet the experts

Professor Peter Weissberg is the former Medical Director of the BHF and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He has a special interest in atherosclerosis.

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