Heart health

Saturday 05 December 2009, 00:00

Blood tests for hearth disease

Common blood tests used for assessing heart risk

Blood tests for hearth disease

The goals of blood testing for heart disease are to determine if observed symptoms are related to a heart condition or other disorders and to assess the potential presence of cardiovascular risk factors.


Blood contains many substances whose concentrations may provide important clues about heart health, although one blood test alone never determines the risk or the presence of heart disease. It is important to remember that all test results have always to be correlated with the patient’s history and clinical status: the determination of disease risk or of an appropriate disease diagnosis is always based on the correlation of all data (history, physical examination and tests).


Blood tests used for detecting and diagnosing heart diseases or assessing heart risk are directed to determining the plasma levels of cholesterol, lipoprotein-a, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, homocysteine and natriuretic peptides.


Cholesterol Test. The traditional cholesterol test (lipid panel or lipid profile) includes measurements of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. These measurements help in assessing heart risk.


Total cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL. LDL cholesterol (also called “bad” cholesterol) is involved in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques; therefore it is a significant marker for heart risk. LDL cholesterol level should be below 130 mg/dL. HDL cholesterol (also called “good” cholesterol) is responsible for removing LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, thus maintaining arteries open. Its level should be 60 mg/dL or higher. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood and they also are associated with increased heart risk. Their levels should be less than 150 mg/dL.


Lipoprotein-a Test. Lipoprotein-a (Lp-a) is a lipoproteic complex responsible for transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream. It has been observed that high levels of Lp-a may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, such as stroke and coronary heart disease. However the exact significance of this association is still not clear.


C-reactive protein Test. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein produced by liver cells in response to an inflammatory process somewhere in the body. Therefore CRP test may help in determining if an inflammatory process is present, although it cannot localize the site of inflammation. However, since inflammation plays a key role in atherosclerosis, CRP test may have some significance when interpreted together with other blood test results and risk factors for heart disease. The mean normal concentration of CRP is 0.8 mg/L. 


Fibrinogen Test. Fibrinogen is a blood protein involved in the cascade of events leading to blood clotting and produced by liver parenchymal cells in response to tissue injury (such as inflammation). High fibrinogen levels may lead to thrombosis, which in turn can cause heart attack or stroke. High fibrinogen levels may also reflect the presence of an inflammatory process (such as atherosclerosis) somewhere in the body. Therefore fibrinogen levels should be checked in patients at increased risk for heart disease. Normal fibrinogen levels are 200-400 mg/L.


Homocysteine test. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood. Epidemiological studies have shown that too much homocysteine in the blood is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease. Therefore homocysteine test may help to assess heart risk, when no other risk factors are present.


Natriuretic peptides. Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a protein secreted by the brain and the heart atria, which is stored mainly in cardiac ventricular myocardium. BNP levels rise every time heart is damaged or after a heart attack. Therefore the measurement of BNP serum levels may help in diagnosing and assessing heart failure or other heart conditions. Normal BNP serum levels range from 0 to 99 pg/mL.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Heart health

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