New test may help rule out heart attack

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The most common reason people get admitted to the hospital is for chest pain. Sometimes, EKGs and other tests add to the challenge of figuring out what's really going on.

Now, researchers say they have a new way to determine if you're having a heart attack or if it's just heartburn.

His heart sounds good today, but in 2001, 61-year-old Jerry Garcia was experiencing chest pain. He thought it was just bronchitis.

"I waited," Garcia said. "It was stupid of me, but I waited."

Doctors determined he had a completely blocked artery. They did an angioplasty and put in a stent.

"I was very lucky," Garcia said.

Determining whether someone is truly having a heart attack isn't always cut and dry.

"There are times when an EKG is not reliable. There are times when a patient's symptoms are not reliable," cardiologist Dr. Sachine Navare said.

Navare says doctors can perform a blood test that checks for a protein called troponin. High levels mean the heart muscle has been damaged.

Now, researchers find a new, more sensitive troponin test can tell doctors faster if a patient is suffering a heart attack or something else.

"When the troponin goes up, it tells you there's heart muscle damage. Heart muscle damage means there's a heart attack. So that's how the high troponin correlates with a heart attack," Navare said.

But Navare says other things like high blood pressure or heart failure can raise a person's troponin levels, and he's concerned a new sensitive test might result in more unnecessary hospitalizations.

"A lot of people tested unnecessarily for heart attacks and having all these excessive admissions and excessive testing when it was probably not needed," Navare said.

The test is often performed more than once since troponins often take time to show up in the blood. If you're not having a heart attack, it can give patients peace of mind.

Navare says if you're having chest pain, always seek medical help.

Garcia says don't wait like he did.

"If you have chest pain, you should go see an emergency physician right away," he said.

The study in the Lancet finds the new high sensitivity test could rule out a heart attack diagnosis in 2/3 of people who go to the ER for chest pain.

Study authors believe the test won't increase unnecessary hospitalizations; they suggest it will prevent them.
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