Heart Attacks Could Be Predicted By New Blood Test, Study Suggests

A new blood test could potentially predict if a person is about to have a heart attack.

Researchers have developed a way to tell when a person is at a high risk for a heart attack by looking at his or her circulating endothelial cells (CECs) in the blood. Heart attack patients' CECs are larger, more misshapen and have more nuclei than people who aren't having a heart attack.

MyHealthNewsDaily reported that if the test is shown to be accurate, it could predict a heart attack two weeks before it occurs.

"The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine," study researcher Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said in a statement. Researchers and doctors from Scripps Translational Science Institute, Veridex LLC, Palomar Health and SharpHealthCare conducted the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

More than a million people have a heart attack each year in the United States, and for half of those people, the heart attack is fatal, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms can range between men and women, but can include chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

For the study, researchers examined 50 people who had had heart attacks and went to emergency rooms at four different San Diego hospitals, as well as healthy people who hadn't had a heart attack. They used a technology called Veridex CellSearch System to find that the people in the heart attack group had the abnormal CEC cells, while the healthy people didn't.

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"With some additional validation, the hope is to have this test developed for commercial use in next year or two," study researcher Dr. Raghava Gollapudi, M.D., of SharpHealthCare, said in a statement. "This would be an ideal test to perform in an emergency room to determine if a patient is on the cusp of a heart attack or about to experience one in the next couple of weeks. Right now we can only test to detect if a patient is currently experiencing or has recently experienced a heart attack."

Last year, CNN reported on new imaging tests that could also help to predict who's at risk for a heart attack. One of the tests, called a coronary calcium scan -- invented by the South Beach diet books author Dr. Arthur Agatston -- shows how much plaque is arteries, which could be a sign of increased risk of heart attack.

And Denmark researchers may have found a more visible way of predicting an upcoming heart attack, as published in a study last year in the British Medical Journal: a yellow, raised marking on the eyelid called xanthelasmata. The researchers found that people with xanthelasmata were 48 percent more likely to have a heart attack than people without the marking. (MSNBC provided this link to photos of xanthelasmata.)