Blood test could diagnose a heart attack within 18 minutes of a patient's arrival at hospital. Picture:Supplied

The test which takes between 12 and 18 minutes to provide a result could speed up treatment for heart attacks and reassure those who are not seriously ill.

Some 188 000 patients have heart attacks in Britain each year. But six times as many more than a million a year arrive at national hospitals complaining of chest pains, the majority of which are not serious.

British experts have now developed a rapid test which could mean most of these patients are sent home immediately.

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Doctors currently have to wait at least three hours after the onset of symptoms before they can diagnose a heart attack. And they often have to repeat tests over at least six hours before an attack can be ruled out and a patient discharged.

The heart attack blood test currently used, called a troponin test, is not definitive for 47% of patients, meaning many have to stay in hospital overnight for monitoring.

The new test, developed at King's College London, is quicker, more sensitive and better at detecting damage. It looks for a protein called cardiac myosin-binding protein C, and can be used within 30 to 60 minutes of a heart attack.

King's College London cardiologist Dr Tom Kaier said: “We can essentially measure it at the front door and tell patients whether they have had a heart attack or not.

Out of all patients presenting with chest pains only 14 to 17% have had a heart attack.”

The current test can only be used three hours after the onset of chest pain, because troponin takes quite a long time to appear in circulation in the bloodstream.

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The experts whose work is published in the journal Clinical Chemistry trialled the new test on 2 000 patients, with the results due to be released later this year. They are already in discussions with technology firms to make it widely available, and say it could be in use in the next six months to a year.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani of the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research, said: If found to be effective, this new approach could ensure thousands of patients get life-saving treatment more quickly while reducing the burden on the national health service. – Daily Mail