What is BNP?

September 8, 2009

A blood test for diagnosing heart failure

By Richard N. Fogoros, M.D., About.com


When a patient shows up in the emergency room acutely short of breath, the possibilities are many. Is the shortness of breath due to asthma, a pulmonary embolus, heart failure, emphysema, or one of several other conditions? Many times doctors can find it difficult to make the right diagnosis – especially in people who have both heart and lung disease. Often an expensive test, such an an echocardiogram, must be performed to rule out heart failure in these cases – IF an echocardiographer can be cajoled out of bed in the middle of the night.

Now a rapid blood test can tell the clinician whether heart failure is present. The test measures a protein called B Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) a substance secreted by heart muscle that is failing.

In a report in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, BNP levels were measured in 250 patients coming to the hospital with shortness of breath. Of the 97 patients who actually had heart failure, the blood test accurately detected heart failure in 95%.

The BNP test, rapid, inexpensive and widely available, should immediately begin helping doctors make the correct diagnosis in patients with heart failure.

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