Keele research to identify early signs of stroke and heart attacks

Research being undertaken by a team led by a Keele University professor could pave the way to reducing heart attacks and strokes by helping to identify the early warning signs in patients with undiagnosed chest pain.

The £200,000 research project funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) will be led by Professor Kelvin Jordan of the School of Primary, Community and Social Care, and will focus on people who visited their GP with unexplained chest pains, before going on to suffer a heart attack or stroke over the next ten years.

Each year, up to one million adults in the UK visit their GP because of chest pain. They can be referred for further tests if coronary heart disease is suspected, or the symptoms can be put down to other commonly associated conditions such as a musculoskeletal problem or anxiety. However, many patients visiting their GP with chest pain do not get a specific diagnosis, but they are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in the future than those without chest pain.

The aim of the study, which will be carried out over the next two years, is to identify common factors between these patients who did not get a specific diagnosis for their pain, in a bid to identify which characteristics could predict future heart attacks or stroke.

The researchers will study hundreds of thousands of anonymised GP consultations from the year 2002 onwards and track the subsequent medical history of the patients involved.

The hope is that by identifying shared characteristics between patients who went on to suffer a heart attack or stroke in these cases, GPs could use this insight as a warning sign when treating people with chest pain to inform further actions such as preventative medication or lifestyle changes.

Professor Jordan said: “Chest pain is a common reason for patients to seek help from their GP, but our previous research has shown that most patients do not get a diagnosis within the first six months and generally do not undergo further tests.

“With these patients more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in the future, this could be putting lives at risk, so it is important that GPs are equipped with the knowledge to identify those patients and intervene before a medical emergency. Our study will allow those at greater risk to be more easily identified, so they can be given medication or further support at an earlier stage.”

Dr Subreena Simrick, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, added: “This UK-wide study could result in GPs having better knowledge of the warning signs in patients with undiagnosed chest pain, allowing them to intervene with treatment or lifestyle advice earlier. This change in practice could prevent many people from suffering a heart attack or stroke every year.”