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Study finds signs that can point to abnormal heart rhythm

Monday 14th January 2019
A study in Birmingham has revealed that biomarkers may help diagnose Atrial fibrillation.
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Undiagnosed abnormal heart rhythm conditions may be detected through a new biomarker technique devised by researchers at the University of Birmingham.

Atrial fibrillation (AF), one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm, is something 1.3 million Britons are diagnosed with, but it has been estimated that hundreds of thousands more are undiagnosed and could be at risk of cardiac episodes or strokes caused by blood clots. 

While an electrocardiogram can detect the condition, it is an expensive method and the researchers have found the same result may be achieved through simple blood tests.

Researchers at the university's Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences found that two biomarkers - a heart hormone called brain natriuretic peptide and a protein that regulates phosphate called fibroblast growth factor-23. Elevated levels of these would show if patients are at a high risk of the disease. 

The study involved 638 patients and began in 2013. The findings have been published in European Heart Journal.

Previous research had found that patients who are older, male and have a high body mass index are most likely to suffer from AF. Those fitting this description may be targeted for testing.

One of the lead researchers, Dr Winnie Chua said: "People with AF 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, AF 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.”

As a result, the tests may help save many lives, not least as many heart conditions of this kind are only discovered too late, after a heart attack or stroke has taken place, when the patient has either died or suffered a life-changing condition. 

Written by Matthew Horton

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