(HealthDay News) — A high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T (hs-cTnT) test may be helpful in identifying early heart damage, eventually standing alongside cholesterol tests as a standard screening tool for heart disease risk, according to researchers who presented their study findings online August 22 in Circulation.

Johns Hopkins researchers assessed hs-cTnT levels in more than 9,300 people enrolled in a long-term heart risk study. None of the participants had any signs of heart disease. About half of the people had trace amounts of troponin in their bloodstream, an indication that their heart muscle was suffering unseen damage.

The researchers found that people with diabetes were more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have elevated levels of hs-cTnT (14 ng/L or higher) at 6 years of follow-up. People with prediabetes were about one-third more likely to have elevated hs-cTnT levels. People with diabetes with elevated hs-cTnT levels were six times more likely to develop heart failure and almost four times more likely to develop heart disease compared with people without diabetes or elevated hs-cTnT levels.

The highly sensitive troponin test is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but could wind up being a useful tool for physicians to identify patients who are suffering chronic but undetectable heart muscle damage, lead author Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, co-director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Training Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an interview with HealthDay. “Our findings suggest that this test may be helpful to identify people with early heart damage,” she said, adding that it eventually could stand alongside cholesterol tests as a standard screening tool for heart disease risk.

Drs. Hoogeveen and Ballantyne disclosed receiving grant support from Roche Diagnostics and are co-investigators on a provisional patent filed by Roche for use of biomarkers in heart failure prediction.

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