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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 00:01 GMT
Test for heart failure
Blood test
A blood test may detect heart disease
Scientists are developing a blood test to help GPs diagnose heart failure.

The test, being developed by a team from the University of Leicester, may avoid the need for patients to join a hospital waiting list to check for the condition.

Heart failure is a very common condition in which the pumping action of the heart is not working properly.

This test could help GPs to diagnose heart failure in their own practice

Dr Kamlesh Khunti, Leicester University

People with heart failure usually feel short of breath and tired, but some people do not have any symptoms.

Once people have heart failure their general health can get worse quite quickly.

There are now drugs that work very well to help people with heart failure to feel better and live longer.

However, only about one third of patients who need these drugs actually get them.

One of the reasons for this is that it is very difficult for GPs to diagnose heart failure just from a patient's symptoms and an examination.

At present, patients who are suspected of having heart failure have to have a special investigation called an echocardiogram.

This uses 'ultrasound' equipment placed on the patient's chest to get a picture of the heart.

This is usually done in hospitals, but there are long waiting lists for echocardiograms.

Biochemical test

The new test is based on detecting the presence of proteins known as cardiac peptides that are found in higher levels among patients with heart failure.

The Leicester team has identified two particular peptides which they believe can be detected by a screening test.

Researcher Dr Kamlesh Khunti said: "This test could help GPs to diagnose heart failure in their own practice without having to send people to hospital for an echocardiogram."

The Leicester team will has launched a study to find out how well the new test works in practice.

Any diagnostic tool that could speed up the time from doctor's surgery to treatment would be welcome

British Heart Foundation

Volunteers are being asked to contact their GP if they want to take part.

They will be given an echocardiogram and also an electrocardiogram (ECG) and asked to provide samples of blood and urine.

The volunteer's GP will decide if treatment is necessary once the results come through.

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: "Over half a million people in the UK suffer from heart failure and prompt diagnosis is vital so that the correct treatment can be offered.

"A whole battery of tests are needed to diagnose heart failure and many of these, such as an echocardiogram, need to be carried out in hospital.

"Any diagnostic tool that could speed up the time from doctor's surgery to treatment would be welcome.

"This research trial is still ongoing so it will be interesting to see whether future results are successful, leading to the blood test being available in the GP's surgery."

Doctors have predicted that heart failure will become more common in the future.

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20 Sep 00 | Health
Doctors 'reverse' heart failure
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