Heart experts link biomarkers with high risk of 'silent strokes'

An investigative team of heart experts has tracked down a pair of biomarkers they say can flag people who are at risk of having "silent strokes," asymptomatic events that can quietly damage the brain and leave them threatened by even worse incidents of heart and vascular disease.

The researchers linked high blood levels of troponin T and NT-proBNP with elevated levels of damaged brain tissue after studying 1,100 patient volunteers. In the future, doctors may want to start patients with these biomarkers on an early regimen of antistroke medications.

"The concept of prevention is expanding," said principal investigator Dr. Christie Ballantyne, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at The Methodist Hospital. "It's not good enough to simply do a few tests and try to assess risk for heart attack. What we need to do is assess the risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and also asymptomatic disease so we can start preventive efforts earlier. Waiting to correct problems until after a symptomatic stroke may be too late."

An earlier paper pointing to high blood levels of troponin T and NT-proBNP as an indicator of symptomatic stroke risk helped seal the connection. 

"Taken together, these two papers show the biomarkers are effective at identifying people who are likely to have mild brain disease and stroke well before damage is done," said Ballantyne, who also is a Baylor College of Medicine professor. "This hopefully will give doctors more time to help patients take corrective steps to protect their brains."

- here's the release from Methodist Hospital