Study identifies clinical risks and biomarkers that could be used to screen patients with heart condition

8th January 2019

Researchers have identified two biomarkers that could help in the diagnosis of a heart condition that raises the risk of stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around 1.6 million people in the UK. Common symptoms include heart palpitations, and when the heart is fluttering or beating irregularly. Sometimes atrial fibrillation does not cause any symptoms and a person who has it is completely unaware that their heart rate is irregular.

This study, by researchers at the University of Birmingham, found that three clinical risk factors and two biomarkers had a strong connection with atrial fibrillation.

Those most at risk of the condition were older, male and had a high BMI. The researchers looked at 638 hospital patients who were recruited between 2014 and 2016 for acute illnesses and gave all patients an echocardiogram.

Researchers found two biomarkers stood out as a link to atrial fibrillation.

One is a hormone secreted by the heart called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) and the other is a protein responsible for phosphate regulation called fibroblast growth factor-23 (FGF-23).

The researchers say that people who may be at risk could be screened for the condition by testing their blood to see if they have elevated levels of the two biomarkers.

Lead author Yanish Purmah said: "The biomarkers we have identified have the potential to be used in a blood test in community settings such as in GP practices to simplify patient selection for ECG screening."

The research was carried out by scientists from the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences and was published on 13th November 2018 in European Heart Journal.

Dr Winnie Chua, joint first author of the research said: “People with atrial fibrillation are much more likely to develop blood clots and suffer from strokes. To avoid strokes it is important for them to take anticoagulant drugs to prevent blood clotting. However, atrial fibrillation is often only diagnosed after a patient has suffered a stroke.

“Therefore it is important that patients at risk are screened so that they can begin taking anticoagulants to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.”

Jayne Partridge a Cardiomyopathy UK support nurse said ‘Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart rhythm disturbances in the UK and affects around 1.6million people, however, it is often only detected after someone has had a stroke. This research could mean that a simple blood test along with risk stratification might soon be used to help diagnose Atrial fibrillation within community screening programmes and thus provide correct treatment to those individuals sooner.”