TUESDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- A simple blood test conducted annually in your primary care doctor's office might be a first step in preventing heart failure, a new study suggests.
The next steps include getting a diagnostic echocardiogram and then receiving coordinated care between a primary care physician and a cardiologist, according to the Irish pilot study.
The end result: Only about 5 percent of the middle-aged and older patients enrolled in this type of program ended up requiring hospitalization for new-onset heart failure or heart dysfunction, compared with nearly 9 percent of those treated in the usual way.
"With 6 million Americans suffering from heart failure -- most commonly due to heart attacks, chronic hypertension, diabetes or obesity -- this blood test can provide a simple way for us to screen those patients at risk and prevent heart failure from developing," said one expert not connected to the study, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The findings were presented Monday in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC).
Heart failure is a notoriously tough-to-treat condition in which the heart's pumping action grows gradually weaker over time. "With middle-aged adults having a 20 to 30 percent lifetime risk of developing heart failure, prevention is a critical issue that has not yet been addressed," Steinbaum said.
The new study sought to remedy that situation. Researchers led by Dr. Kenneth McDonald, director of the Heart Failure Unit at St. Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, focused on a test that measures blood levels of a hormone called B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), which can be conducted in any primary care office.
Speaking to ACC meeting attendees, McDonald said that numerous studies "indicate that elevated BNP [blood] levels,
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