Heart disease accounts for half of all deaths in Europe and costs the European Union economy 200 billion euros ($281 billion) a year. Now, scientists have found a new way to detect heart disease by analyzing urine.
According to the European Heart Network, some 4.3 million Europeans die of heart disease every year - half of all deaths, and it is the main cause of death for European women.
The disease is caused when blood vessels are clogged with plaque, made up of protein and fat. If too much of this builds up, the blood vessel can rupture and blood flow is blocked, causing a heart attack.
When the disease has advanced this far, it can be too late to treat effectively. Most medical officials suggest that cholesterol and blood pressure be monitored regularly, but this isn't always done in practice.
Heart disease is caused by a build-up of fat and protein in blood vessels
However, a new paper, published this month in the Journal of Hypertension, proposed a new method of potential diagnosing heart disease by analyzing urine.
"We analyzed all the proteins in the urine and asked the question, 'Are there distinct differences between patients that have coronary heart disease and those that do not have coronary heart disease?'" one of the paper's authors, Harald Mischak, a professor of proteomics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, told Deutsche Welle.
The scientists looked at a series of peptides and proteins that are present in plaque build-up in the arteries, including the long protein collagen. Some collagen, along with other proteins, makes its way into the body's waste system, and is eventually excreted.
Researchers were able to isolate the difference in urine samples between hundreds of people with known heart disease and hundreds known not to have it. They then determined that by scanning for this protein signature, they could use it as a diagnostic tool for yet another set of patients that might be at risk in the future.
Mischak added that this also changes the fundamental understanding of what heart disease is.
"I think it is well-justified to see coronary heart disease not as an isolated disease but rather as a systemic vascular disease," the Austrian scientist noted.
Heart disease is connected to obesity and kills several million people a year
'An important step'
Dr. Bukurt Pieske, head of the division of cardiology at the University of Graz in Austria, said this new method could be a significant improvement. He added that previous scanning tools, like ECGs or heart biopsies, were more complicated and invasive.
"They have developed a risk score for coronary artery disease or a diagnostic score for coronary heart disease that was better than any previous non-invasive marker for coronary heart disease," said Pieske. "If this is proven and can be repeated, this would be a big step forward."
Pieske added that, apart from the people who have already shown some symptoms of heart disease, another group could benefit.
"We can identify people at risk who are asymptomatic, who do not know anything about their early stage of the disease and these people are very amenable to preventive measures, to prevent the disease from evolving," he said.
Author: Cyrus Farivar/bk
Editor: Kate Bowen