New Blood Test Predicts Heart Attack: Should You Get It?
A simple, new blood test that accurately predicts whether a person is headed for a heart attack is a “game-changer” in heart care, a top cardiologist tells.
Heart disease is currently the nation’s number one killer, but this could change thanks to the newly approved screening test, says Dr. Chauncey Crandall, M.D.
“This test is a wonderful tool that will help us predict heart problems that we otherwise would have missed,” says Dr. Crandall, director of prevention at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
“Some 50 percent of heart attacks happen in people who have normal cholesterol readings and therefore receive no further evaluation. This test will help identify people who are at risk but have no other signs of heart trouble.”
The screening, known as the PLAC test, is a simple blood draw intended to assess heart attack risk in people without a history of heart disease.
The test tracks the activity of a specific biological signal of vascular inflammation called Lp-PLA2. Vascular inflammation, a chronic condition, increasingly is viewed as the driver of atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits called plaque build within the heart’s coronary arteries, narrowing them and forming heart attack-causing blood clots.
Dr. Crandall has advocated the use of the PLAC test for years, even before its recent approval by the FDA. “This is the only test that pinpoints vascular inflammation with the best specificity,” he said.
But, since it was not considered a standard test, insurers did not reimburse for it and, as a result, doctors were unlikely to recommend it. That may now change.
The FDA’s action should pave the way for the test to be covered by insurance. Dr. Crandall notes that the screening is relatively inexpensive especially compared to assessments such as a heart stress test.
People who do not have diagnosed heart disease, but with risk factors that result in inflammation, such as diabetes and obesity, should get the test as part of a regular checkup, says Dr. Crandall. In addition, people experiencing symptoms that could be heart related but are not typical, should consider getting the test, he added.
The FDA action came following the results of a study that compiled data on almost 4,600 people ages 45 to 92 with no prior history of heart disease. Researchers gave the participants the PLAC test and followed them for an average of five years.
The study showed that subjects scoring high on the PLAC test had more than double the heart risk of those scoring lower.
If a patient scores high on the test, he or she should be put on a program to reduce inflammation, said Dr. Crandall.
“Statin therapy and daily aspirin can help, but, the number one way to lower heart-damaging inflammation is by moving to a plant-based diet,” he said. more