Blood Test Could Help People with Sickle Cell Disease

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A group of scientists has just found that a simple blood test that can identify a specific hormone will help doctors determine if patients with sickle cell disease have developed a potentially life-threatening condition known as pulmonary hypertension. The scientists have also discovered that the hormone is also a clear predictor of death in adults with a rare blood disorder known as sickle cell disease.

 The researchers, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have found that the hormone, which is called “brain natriuretic peptide” (BNP), can predict death in heart failure patients. The heart’s ventricles release this hormone. The study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, offers a new way of identifying a potential cause of death in people with sickle cell disease.

 The researchers call this finding an “important leap forward” in research based on sickle cell disease. NHLBI’s director, Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD stated that “Having a marker in the blood that will not only help identify sickle cell patients with this deadly complication but also predict those at the highest risk — will aid in the care and treatment of these patients.”

 In the U.S., sickle cell anemia is one of the most common genetic blood disorders, with about 30% of people with the condition having pulmonary hypertension. This is concerning, as pulmonary hypertension causes persistent high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen and nutrients to the lungs. The pressure that is caused in this condition often results in narrowed arteries, which is problematic, as it forces the heart to work harder when pumping blood.

 Because pulmonary hypertension can lead to heart failure, it’s a serious risk factor for death in individuals who suffer from sickle cell disease. When it comes to detecting pulmonary hypertension, the forms of evaluation have traditionally included echocardiograms and other heart tests. However, this is the first time a blood test has been used to detect it in people with sickle cell anemia.

 According to the researchers in the study, people with pulmonary hypertension, higher levels of BNP are a prime indicator of a greater incidence of pressure in the pulmonary arteries. They also suggested that levels of BNP in the blood might also correlate with a higher risk of death in patients with sickle cell anemia who also have pulmonary hypertension.

 In the study, researchers measured BNP levels in 230 patients suffering from sickle cell disease. The study, entitled the “NIH Pulmonary Hypertension Screening Study,” was conducted from 2001 to 2005, where patients underwent echocardiograms and other tests for heart function in order to confirm that they indeed had pulmonary hypertension.

 The researchers found that 30% of individuals with sickle cell disease had a high level of BNP that was consistent with a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension. The main finding was that people with sickle cell disease are facing a threefold risk of death due to pulmonary hypertension than individuals who do not have the disease.

 These new findings mean that medical professionals can help people with sickle cell disease determine if they are at risk, which means they can take the proper steps to help prevent the illness from worsening. This will undoubtedly help with patient survival rates in the future.