New test to diagnose heart attacks

10 January 2014        

A fatty plaque

Researchers believe they have discovered a new way of diagnosing a heart attack.

Most heart attacks are caused when coronary arteries narrow due to a gradual build-up of atheroma (fatty material) within their walls. If the atheroma becomes unstable, it may rupture or ulcerate and lead to a blood clot forming.

When this process takes place in the bloodstream, a specific type of cell – called circulating endothelial cells (CECs) – can be found in the blood. Scientists believe that by using a blood test to measure for presence of these cells it could indicate whether someone has had a heart attack.

Dr Mike Knapton, our Associate Medical Director, said: “These scientists have found that you can detect circulating endothelial cells or CECs in the blood of patients following a heart attack, which are not found in healthy people. This is an interesting finding and suggests looking for CECs could be another way of identifying a heart attack.

“In the short to medium term, it is unlikely to change how people in the UK are treated as we already have good ways to treat and diagnose heart attacks, and targets to ensure rapid pain to treatment times.”

“This study appears to be laying the groundwork for future research to see if this test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of a heart attack.”