New 20-minute test is more effective at finding heart conditions


A new 20-minute test is six times more effective at discovering hidden heart conditions than existing diagnosis methods.

The unnamed test is able to diagnose disorders that are caused by problems with the blood vessels that supply the heart. These vessels are often too small for issues to be picked up via current methods.

Six months after the test is used to diagnose and treat patients, they report having less chest pain and a better quality of life.

Scientists from the University of Glasgow argue the test should be used as standard whenever a patient complains of chest pain.

Until now, it was not yet routinely used in the NHS due to insufficient evidence on how it benefits patients.

The test involves passing a thin, flexible wire into a patient’s heart to measure how their blood vessels relax.

This was done on 151 patients with chest pain, known as angina, who had uncertain diagnoses based on currently available tests. 

Chest pain can occur when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This may be due to the arteries that supply the heart narrowing.

For half of the study’s participants, the test’s results were used to guide doctors towards a diagnosis and treatment.

The remaining patients’ results were undisclosed, with them being treated via standard care. 

This usually involves an angiogram, which is an invasive procedure that investigates whether the heart’s main arteries have narrowed.

Results suggest the patients who had the new test were six times more likely to be diagnosed correctly.

The findings were presented at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics conference in San Diego today.

In around half of patients who have an angiogram, no significant problem is found.  

This is thought to be due to the blood vessels in the heart being too small to see via the medical imaging technique.

Such patients therefore often continue to experience severe chest pain, which can increase their risk of having a heart attack.  

Lead researcher Professor Colin Berry said: ‘As the angiogram looks “clear” patients may be falsely reassured.

‘However, leaving these heart conditions undiagnosed and untreated presents a risk to patient wellbeing – these problems can lead to hospitalisation for chest pain and a heart attack – and symptoms persist in the longer term.

‘We now hope to see this test rolled out across the country.’

Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, believes the study may comfort patients who battle mysterious chest pain.

‘People living with angina suffer from crippling and frightening episodes of chest pain that dramatically affects their day to day life.

‘They are unable to treat their symptoms effectively as their angiogram is essentially normal. 

‘Medication currently prescribed to people with diagnosed coronary heart disease does little to resolve their pain or reduce risk of heart attack, so they are left in limbo.

‘This study is very reassuring news for sufferers who live in the fear of having a heart attack as for many, there is currently no conclusive proof they have heart disease,’ she said. 

Angina affects around two million adults in the UK and 10 million in the US.

This comes after research released last year suggested having a stent implanted to widen the arteries may not benefit angina sufferers.

The procedure, which can damage the arteries or cause excessive bleeding, has no significant benefit on a patient’s symptoms or their quality of life, according to a study by Imperial College London.


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