A sudden chest pain often leads to people fearing the worst, which is why many, quite rightly, seek medical help right away. But two-thirds of the time, patients with chest pains will not actually have experienced a heart attack. Nevertheless, these patients still need to be assessed and given the all-clear before being sent home.
Then there are the patients who have actually had a heart attack. While a heart trace, called an ECG, can quickly identify major heart attacks, it is not that good at highlighting smaller ones, which can also be life-threatening.
At present, patients with a clear ECG and chest pain are then given a heart-attack blood test, called troponin. However, this needs to be repeated three hours later to check for signs of heart muscle damage.
Now, a new instant blood test could change the way suspected heart attack patients are treated.
The cMyC test can rule out or confirm a heart attack in less than 20 minutes, meaning well patients can be sent home quicker, while heart attack victims can get the treatment they need faster.
Troponin and cMyC blood tests were carried out on nearly 2,000 people admitted to hospitals in Switzerland, Italy and Spain with acute chest pain. The cMyC test was found to be better at giving patients the all-clear within the first three hours of presenting with chest pain.
According a team from King's College London, the cMyC test could be rolled out on the NHS within five years.
Dr Tom Kaier, one of the lead researchers at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said: "Our research shows that the new test has the potential to reassure many thousands more patients with a single test, improving their experience and freeing up valuable hospital beds in A&E departments and wards across the country."
[Related reading: What is Coronary Angioplasty?]