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Heart Disease Prediction

Predicting whether a healthy person has the potential to develop heart disease later in life is important and now more feasible according to new findings from the Christchurch Heart Institute, a University of Otago Research Centre.

According to Senior Research Fellow, Tim Prickett, a routinely used blood test that measures a heart hormone, called BNP, to diagnose when the heart is under stress, also indicates, in a healthy middle-aged person, their risk of heart disease later in life.

In a recent paper published in the international journal, Scientific Reports, Tim has shown that low levels of the hormone in healthy people can indicate potential future heart issues, but people with higher levels are at less risk.

The research found that a genetic mutation - known to raise blood levels of BNP in normal healthy people and reduce heart disease - contributed to the higher levels in 25 percent of the study population of 300, 49-51 year-olds.

“We have found that BNP is strongly linked to the development of cardiovascular disease in later life. In middle-aged people without heart disease, lower levels of BNP are associated with a large number of risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol – indicative of high cardiovascular risk. Those people with the genetic mutation that cause a small increase in levels of BNP in the blood are protected and have a healthier circulation,” Prickett said.

These findings suggest that genetic factors play an important role in regulating BNP secretion from the heart and benefit cardiovascular health throughout life.

Prickett said that, whilst doctors have long known that blood levels of BNP are markedly raised as the pumping action of the heart begins to fail, it was unknown whether blood levels of BNP would have any benefit in healthy people.

“Our research shows that the relationship between raised BNP in healthy people and ideal cardiovascular health likely results from the blood pressure lowering effect of the hormone, as well as, actions reducing fat formation.”

This breakthrough research has significant implications for ageing populations, providing insight into how BNP could potentially play a part in helping to reduce incidents of cardiovascular disease. It also forms part of the Canterbury Health Ageing Life Course (CHALICE) study, which has been running since 2013. CHALICE aims to gather health data that will inform new models of health care to support the needs of New Zealand’s ageing population.

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