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A heart attack is a very scary and potentially life-threatening event. While doctors can quickly tell that someone is having a heart attack while it is occuring, they can't know in advance whether someone will have an attack. Even those patients with a clean bill of health and who pass their stress test may end up back in the hospital a few days later with a heart attack. However, a new blood test may change all of this.

Health experts predict that certain cells called circulating endothelial cells (CECs) slough off from weakened blood vessel walls. Because of this, heart attacks take place at several stages. In the first stage, the blood vessel walls weaken and erode, which attracts inflammatory cells that damage the endothelial cells. In the second stage, the inflammation becomes so severe that the endothelial cells undergo mutations and clump together, and eventually start circulating in the body. For these reasons, a heart attack starts to take shape days before a patient develops a blood clot that blocks the flow to the heart and causes the actual attack.

A new study conducted by Dr. Topol and colleagues at Scripp's Health used this information. The study looked at 50 patients who had experienced a heart attack and 44 healthy patients and found that they could identify CECs in the blood. The research may help doctors in the future to have quick access to a blood test that could help predict if someone will have a heart attack. This is especially pertinent for patients who come to the emergency room complaining of chest-tightening or other sensations, but don't show signs of elevated heart enzymes that would indicate a heart attack. Unfortunately, these people are commonly sent home only to return several days later with a heart attack. The heart damage is usually already done by this point. The CEC blood test would help many patients predict and avoid and impending heart attack.

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