Some people with heart disease experience a restriction of blood flow to the heart in response to psychological stress. Usually silent (not painful), the temporary restriction in blood flow, called ischemia, is an indicator of greater mortality risk.
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Cardiologists at Emory University School of Medicine have discovered that people in this group tend to have higher levels of troponin — a protein whose increased presence in the blood that is a sign of recent damage or stress to the heart muscle– all the time, independently of whether they are experiencing stress or chest pain at that moment.
The results were presented Sunday by cardiology research fellow Muhammad Hammadah, MD at the American College of Cardiology meeting in Chicago, as part of the Young Investigator Awards competition. Hammadah works with Arshed Quyyumi, MD, and Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute.
“Elevated troponin levels in patients with coronary artery disease may be a sign that they are experiencing repeated ischemic events in everyday life, with either psychological or physical triggers,” Hammadah says.
Doctors test for troponin in the blood to tell whether someone has recently had a heart attack. But the levels seen in this study were lower than those used to diagnose a heart attack: less than a standard cutoff of 26 picograms per milliliter, in a range that only a high-sensitivity test for troponin could detect.
In a separate study, Emory investigators have shown that elevated troponin levels (especially: more than 10 pg/mL)Â predict mortality risk over the next few years in patients undergoing cardiac catheterization, even in those without apparent coronary artery disease.
There is already a lot of information available for doctors about the significance of elevated troponin. It has even been detected at elevated levels after strenuous exercise in healthy individuals. One recent study suggested that low levels of troponin could be used to rule out heart attack for patients in the emergency department.
More information about the mental stress ischemia study: Read more