The heart is one of the most crucial organs in the human system, pumping blood at 60 – 100 beats per minute and circulating oxygen, nutrients to other parts of the body for their optimal functioning. The supporting structures which enable the distribution of key components to and from the heart are the cardiac muscles and when they are damaged, a protein called troponin is released into the bloodstream. Troponin test is a diagnostic assay that measures the levels of troponin in blood and is a key cardiac marker to identify a heart attack.
While doctors used various other blood tests like the CPK isoenzyme test to diagnose a heart attack earlier, these assays were not effective in detecting minor heart attacks and were also not consistent in spotting every single incident of a cardiac problem. Hence, nowadays, the troponin test is the most standard procedure to discern a heart attack in patients as it is highly sensitive and helps physicians in timely diagnosis and treatment.
What Is The Troponin Test?
In a normal, healthy individual, troponin protein is usually not present in significant amounts in the blood. However, when a person encounters a heart attack or health anomaly in which the cardiac muscles are injured, then troponin proteins are produced and discharged into circulation.
The troponin proteins are divided into three subunits – troponin C (TnC), troponin I (TnI) and troponin T (TnT), which are detected and measured from a blood sample of the patient. Higher than normal amounts of troponin indicate considerable damage to the heart muscles and associated cardiac structures.
Why Is It Done?
When individuals experience prominent symptoms of a heart attack, they are advised by the doctor to promptly undergo a troponin test. These warning signs comprise:
- Chest pain and tightness in the region
- Pulling sensation in the chest along with body pain in the arms, neck, face and back
- Breathing difficulty
- Feeling nauseous and encountering instances of vomiting
- Abnormally high levels of sweating
- Dizziness, vertigo and recurring episodes of fainting
Furthermore, a troponin test is also performed to monitor the progress of angina – an ailment that obstructs the flow of blood to the heart leading to pain in the chest and is a primary risk factor for heart attacks.
The patient does not need to follow any specific steps to prepare for the troponin test. Once they display symptoms of chest pain or any other obvious signals of a heart attack, then they are taken to a clinic or hospital where the doctor assesses their vitals parameters of heart rate, pulse, to make sure there are no signs of irregular heartbeats or arrhythmia.
A physician, nurse or certified pathologist/healthcare professional collects a blood sample from a vein in the arm, by inserting a small, sterile needle. The drawn-out blood is stored in a clean vial for further investigation in the laboratory for troponin levels. The entire process is usually quick, taking only 5 minutes and if the patient is normal with no risk of a heart attack, they can resume all day-to-day activities post the troponin test.
There are generally no harmful consequences or major risks associated with a troponin test. At times, the prick of the needle may result in minor aching, soreness or bruising at the site of insertion, but the pain and discomfort usually subside in a short span of time.
When a person is normal with healthy heart functions, the troponin levels in the blood are negligible and so minuscule that they cannot be detected in the blood. Hence, if the results indicate normal troponin levels in blood 12 hours after the beginning of chest pain, then the patient has not encountered a heart attack and the chest pain was most likely triggered by some other health issue.
If the troponin test results show a small quantity of the protein in the blood, then it signifies injury to the heart muscles. Considerable or very high levels of troponin are shown in the test results, then it confirms the instance of a heart attack in the patient. At times, other disorders such as kidney disease, blood clots in the lungs or congestive heart failure could also be the cause of higher than normal troponin levels. Once the reason is identified by the doctor, then appropriate treatment is provided to the patient for improving heart functions/ rectifying other problems and ensuring a full recovery.