Scientists have developed a new and simple blood test that they claim can help medics identify people who are at risk for a heart attack.

The new test involves measuring gamma - prime fibrinogen - a component of the blood’s clotting mechanism, to find out whether a person is prone to an attack or not, according to the researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland.

“Elevated levels indicate greater likelihood of a heart attack, even when other signs don’t point to cardiovascular trouble,” said lead researcher David H Farrell, a member of OHSU’s Heart Research Center.

Noting that around 250,000 of the patients who die of heart attack have normal cholesterol with some of them having elevated levels of gamma-prime fibrinogen, Farrell said that the team decided to study it as “another risk factor”.

To confirm the effectiveness of the gamma-prime fibrinogen test, the team analysed 3,400 blood samples from the Framingham Heart Study, the oldest and most prestigious cardiovascular disease study in the world.

In addition, OHSU’s analysis of the Framingham samples found that patients with well-established heart attack risk factors, including cholesterol, high body mass index, smoking and diabetes also have elevated gamma-prime fibrinogen levels.

“We found that if your gamma-prime fibrinogen levels were in the top 25 per cent, you had seven times greater odds of having coronary artery disease,” Dr. Farrell said.

Asserting that “it will take some time to build consensus within the field of cardiology for this test,” Dr. Farrell said: “the next step is using the test at several hospitals and medical centres to demonstrate it works on a large scale.”

“The gamma-prime fibrinogen test would be used in conjunction with a cholesterol test to better predict who is likely to suffer a heart attack. Ultimately we are optimistic we can identify people who are at risk and who don’t know they are at risk,” he added.

According to the study that appeared in journal Clinical Chemistry, around half a million people suffer fatal heart attacks every year.

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