Heart failure affects millions of patients and it is a life-threatening condition with poor quality of life, burden of hospitalizations and premature death.1,2 The accuracy of diagnosis, based on history and clinical assessment only, is challenging as symptoms are often difficult to interpret3,4. And up to 50% of patients can be misdiagnosed with all related adverse impact, such as inappropriate care or treatment adding burden for patients and costs to healthcare systems.4,5 Therefore, further diagnostic procedures are required to confirm the initial diagnosis and ensure the best patient management.
How is heart failure diagnosed?
As a first step to diagnosis, an examination and the patient’s medical history are assessed. Then three further tests and procedures should be performed.1,2 These are an electrocardiogram (ECG), a biomarker (blood test) for natriuretic peptides, and echocardiography to determine any structural and functional impairment of the heart (changes in heart beat rhythm, pumping capacity, wall stress and wall thickness). Interpretation of the results provided by those tests helps in the confirmation or exclusion of the diagnosis of heart failure.
Biomarkers – a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention, in blood.14
Natriuretic peptides – Natriuretic peptides are hormones that are made by the heart when its wall is stretched.
NT-proBNP – N-terminal pro b-type natriuretic peptideis part of the natriuretic peptides family.
What role do natriuretic peptides play in diagnosis?
Natriuretic peptides, like NT-proBNP, provide additional and objective results to aid in the diagnosis and management of heart failure. For example, in patients with suspected symptoms of heart failure, NT-proBNP, which is released in the blood, can help to distinguish cardiac causes from non-cardiac causes, such as of shortness of breath and other symptoms. 1,2,7
Testing natriuretic peptides, such as NT-proBNP, can help in the following situations:
In the emergency situation, this aids in the diagnosis, assesses the disease severity and the risk for adverse events.1,2,6 Which can help physicians decide to admit or to discharge patients from the hospital. 3
In the general practitioner’s office, this test can help decide whether to refer a patient to the cardiologist for further examination.1,7,8
In the longer term, at the cardiologist’s office, or general practitioner, this testing helps physicians to monitor the disease progression and work on the long term management of heart failure.4,5,9,10
If a patient presents with NT-proBNP in his or her blood, then heart failure diagnosis is highly likely, unless the level of the peptide is below a certain threshold.1,2,7
If a patient exhibits high levels of NT-proBNP in his or her blood, over the long term and regardless of medications taken, then the prognosis (clinical outlook) is compromised.9,10,11 Additionally, NT-proBNP, can be used for monitoring heart failure over time and identify which patients are stable or improving, and which are worsening and at high risk of hospitalization or mortality.9,10 Therefore, current guidelines recommend such tests to aid in the diagnosis, to assess the disease severity and get prognostic information all along the heart failure patient journey.1,2