patient will have a heart attack
Patients who suffer heart attacks have unique cells present in their blood, according to a new study.
The "significant" findings published in the journal "Physical Biology" could potentially be used to predict whether a patient is about to have a heart attack by testing for circulating endothelial cells (CECs).
As one person in the UK dies from a heart attack every seven minutes, the test is potentially life-saving if used by doctors.
Over a 100,000 heart attacks a year in the UK are caused by the build-up of fatty plaque on the walls of a person's blood vessels.
If this wall breaks, plaque can be released into the bloodstream: blocking the blood-flow into vessels around the heart.
However, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California have discovered that CECs were also released into a patient's blood.
The study assessed 79 patients who had suffered a heart attack, 25 who were healthy, and seven who were receiving treatment for diseased blood vessels.
Scientists concluded that the presence of CECs in a person's blood after a heart attack was something not seen in healthy controls.
Prof Peter Kuhn, who worked on the project, explained that the results of the study are "so significant" that the next step is to establish how the findings can be used to identify patients during the early stages of a heart attack.
He added: "There are plenty of other ways to suggest that you are at long-term risk of a heart attack and there are good ways of diagnosing that you have just had a heart attack but what we don't have is the ability to say 'you will very likely have a heart attack in the next three weeks and we need to do something about this now'."
However, Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation, said: "In the short to medium term, it is unlikely to change how people in the UK are treated as we already have good ways to treat and diagnose heart attacks, and targets to ensure rapid pain-to-treatment times.
"This study appears to be laying the groundwork for future research to see if this test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of a heart attack."