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For Immediate Release                            September 3, 2002

Blood test available at Sharon Regional helps catch congestive heart failure

A simple blood test can help spot emergency department patients with congestive heart failure, potentially getting them the necessary treatment quicker, according to researchers. Sharon Regional Health System recently implemented the test through a purchase of a new instrument for its laboratory.

The international study of nearly 1,600 emergency patients with shortness of breath found that the 15-minute test–which measures a hormone called B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP)–was the single most accurate predictor of heart failure in the set of criteria the researchers used.

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump efficiently, often due to an underlying cardiac problem such as coronary artery disease. Shortness of breath is a prime symptom, but when patients arrive at the emergency department with breathing problems, it can be difficult to distinguish whether it’s due to heart failure or pulmonary problems.

According to the authors of the new study, which was published in the July 18th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the BNP test–used along with other patient information–“should lead to more accurate initial diagnoses of congestive heart failure.”

Sergio Segarra, M.D., FACEP, director of Sharon Regional’s Emergency Care Center, says, “This test, along with the use of new medications such as Natrecor, will allow us to expedite the diagnosis and treatment of congestive heart failure in both inpatients and outpatients. We’re pleased to add this to the many advances we’ve acquired at Sharon Regional to rapidly assess heart patients.” BNP is a hormone secreted from the heart’s ventricles in response to increased pressure and volume in the organ. The hormone helps relieve this stress by promoting the release of fluid and sodium from the body, and BNP levels have been found to be elevated in the blood of people with heart failure.

The study team found that out of all patients, 47 percent were ultimately diagnosed with congestive heart failure. And the BNP test was the single most accurate predictor of heart failure, in a set of criteria that included patients’ medical history and chest x-rays.

The team noted that along with confirming heart failure as the cause of patients’ shortness of breath, the BNP test helps judge the severity of heart failure, estimate patients’ prognosis, and judge the effectiveness of heart failure therapy.