A New Test Can Tell If You're Going to Have a Heart Attack

Scientists have developed a test that detects whether the large, misshapen, mutant cells that indicate you're due for an acute myocardial infarction are circulating through your bloodstream. That's right: There's a heart attack test. And it works.

Researchers from two Scripps science institutes in San Diego found that "circulating endothelial cells" taken from recent heart attack patients were big and deformed and often had multiple nuclei. They think the patients likely had the malformed cells before their cardiac episode, and that testing for them could be an urgent red flag. Dr. Eric Topol, the study's principal investigator says:

The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine ... (it's) an important discovery that may help to change the future of cardiovascular medicine.

The researchers looked at 50 patients who had shown up in emergency rooms with heart attacks at four hospitals in San Diego. More than 2.5 million people in the United States do the same every year: Their arteries are abruptly and completely blocked by the buildup of fatty choleserol, leading to a massive heart attack and likely sudden death. It's what happened to Tim Russert in 2008 when he was only 56.

They hope the test will be available in a year or two. The trick would be knowing when you need to take it. But a positive result might be one way to get Uncle Jack to step away from the rib-eye. Though probably not. [Science Translational Medicine]