New test for heart attack diagnosis in women

21 January 2015        

A lady having her blood pressure taken

According to a study that we funded, a new, high sensitivity blood test suggests we should use different criteria to diagnose heart attacks in men and women, and that use of this test could double the diagnosis of heart attacks in women. 

Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today, the findings suggest that current practice may under diagnose heart attacks in women and that improving diagnosis could reduce the risk of women dying or suffering from future heart attacks. 

Around 110,000 men and 65,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with a heart attack each year. A woman is nearly three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer, yet often the diagnosis is over looked. 

The study

In a study of over 1,000 men and women admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh hospital with chest pain, researchers from the University of Edinburgh evaluated the effectiveness of a blood test for troponin, a protein released from the heart during a heart attack. They compared the rate of diagnosis with the new, higher sensitivity test with the standard test used around the world. 

The researchers found that the new test doubled the diagnoses of heart attacks in women, bringing the proportion of women who were diagnosed with a heart attack in line with the diagnosis of men. 

With further funding from us, the researchers will now carry out an even bigger clinical trial of over 26,000 patients to find out whether this improves the outcomes for patients.

Dr Anoop Shah, Clinical Lecturer in Cardiology at the University of Edinburgh, who worked on the study, said:

“Our findings suggest one reason for the difference in heart attack diagnosis rates of men and women is that we, as doctors, may have been using a threshold for troponin testing that is too high in women. 

Three weeks ago Jenni Stevens, 41, from Edinburgh, was rushed to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh after collapsing at work with chest pain. The new, high sensitivity troponin blood test was used to help diagnose a heart attack.

Jenni said:

“As much as I was frightened, I felt a sense of reassurance when I got to the hospital. They took my blood and did other tests. They thought I’d had a heart attack. I was treated with a stent to save my life. I'm genuinely so grateful that my heart attack was spotted and treated so well and with such compassion.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, our Medical Director, said:

“This research has shown that the results of the commonly used troponin blood test are significant at different levels in men and women. When the researchers took this into account, they found that twice as many women would be diagnosed with a heart attack. 

“If these results are confirmed in the much larger clinical trial we’re funding, these results suggest that using a high sensitivity troponin test, with a threshold specific to each gender, could save many more women’s lives by identifying them earlier to take steps to prevent them dying or having another, bigger heart attack.”

We fund research into heart attack and its risk factors all across the UK, from BHF Professor Rhian Touyz at the University of Glasgow, who researches high blood pressure, to  BHF Professor Paul Riley, who leads the BHF Oxbridge Centre of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford, who is hoping to find a way to encourage the damaged heart to repair itself after a heart attack.

Women's room

If you're a woman worried about your heart, please visit our Women's Room for practical information and a place to talk.