Use of a high sensitivity blood test in A&E departments across the country could rule out heart attack in two thirds of people presenting with chest pain, a new study funded by Edinburgh University has found.

The study, which involved more than 6,000 patients and was published in The Lancet, determined the maximum level of troponin - a protein released during a heart attack - at which patients could be safely discharged from urgent care. 

According to the data, if a person has a high sensitivity troponin-I concentration of less than 5 nanograms per litre, they are at very low risk of having had a heart attack or having one in the next 30 days, negating the need for a stay in hospital.

Under the current method, levels of troponin are tested when a patient with chest pain is first admitted and then again 12 hours later. But the high-sensitivity test is able to pick up much lower levels, and also only needs to be carried out once. 

It is hoped that the findings will help shape future guidelines on the diagnosis of heart attacks, creating a faster and more efficient pathway that could divert a massive number of patients from entering hospital through A&E.

Nearly 190,000 heart attacks occur in the UK each year, but chest pain drives more than a million visits to A&E departments, with many of these patients having to undergo unnecessary tests and time in hospital.

“A faster, more accurate diagnosis of whether chest pain is caused by a heart attack would be better for patients and save the NHS money,” said Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation. “What’s important about this study is that the evidence shows you can quickly and confidently rule out a heart attack without compromising patient safety.”