Heart disease is a huge killer in America and other Western countries, and while there are certain clear risk factors for myocardial infarction, one of the frustrating aspects of heart attacks is how they seemingly strikes at random- such as the incident last week when young football player Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during a game.
Myocardial infarction (or heart attack) isn’t something most people see coming, and many (particularly women, who studies show die in greater numbers because of it) don’t even experience the telltale chest and left arm pain we’ve come to associate with cardiovascular incidents of that magnitude. Doctors could, up until now, tell you you may be at risk, and they could determine whether you were having or had experienced a recent myocardial infarction- but what they couldn’t predict was when heart attack was imminent.
Patients have been known to pass “stress tests” and clear physicals only to wind up back in the hospital in a scant few days presenting with symptoms of a heart attack, but new research may change that. A new study, “Characterization of Circulating Endothelial Cells in Acute Myocardial Infarction,” was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and used a blood test to detect damaged circulating endothelial cells (CECs).
CECs measured in post-heart attack patients in the study via fluorescent images appear “abnormally large and misshapen and often appeared with multiple nuclei, indicating that these cells may predict an acute arterial plaque rupture within the next two weeks.”
The study involved 50 participants who had experienced recent heart attacks and 44 patients in the control group who had not. Those in the former group had four times fewer of the malformed CECs that researchers say could predict myocardial infarction weeks before a heart attack occurred.