Clinical Laboratory Tests: Essential Tools for Detecting and Managing Heart Disease
This American Heart Month, we are reminded of the vital role that clinical laboratory testing services play in the prevention, detection, and management of heart disease.
For decades, providers have relied on certain clinical laboratory tests to assess their patients’ heart health. Test results can help identify risks for developing heart disease or reveal critical data informing how diagnosed heart disease is being managed. With one in every five deaths in the United States linked to heart disease, it is the single biggest killer of adults in this country. While many have knowns risks – such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or a history of smoking – even those without obvious risk factors can have underlying heart issues.
Routine physicals that include clinical laboratory blood testing can provide early warning signs of cardiac issues, giving providers and patients an intervention opportunity to help lessen the chance of serious heart problems down the road.
For example, health care providers use cholesterol screening to assess whether a patient has high levels of LDL cholesterol. This so called “bad” cholesterol can create plaque in the arteries – known as atherosclerosis – that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
In addition to high cholesterol, researchers have become increasingly focused on the role of chronic inflammation in arterial plaque buildup caused by injury, infection, or chronic disease. Blood tests run by clinical laboratories can measure levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is produced by the liver when there is inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that elevated levels of CRP may predict risk of a first heart attack up to eight years in advance.
Blood glucose tests help assess the risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Those with diabetes are two to four times more likely than others to develop heart disease. Another blood test measures for the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid function. TSH influences the force and speed of the heartbeat and blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels.
For more information about heart disease, visit https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm.
 Sorriento D, Iaccarino G. Inflammation and Cardiovascular Diseases: The Most Recent Findings. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Aug 9;20(16):3879. doi: 10.3390/ijms20163879. PMID: 31395800; PMCID: PMC6719998.