In a study Henry J. Michtalik, M.D., M.P.H., and his colleagues tested heart failure patients on admission and discharge for levels of a protein that is considered a marker for heart stress. In previous studies, the levels of this protein, N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide, or NT-proBNP, have been correlated with heart failure symptoms and have been associated with an increase in adverse outcomes.
They found that patients whose protein levels dropped by less than 50 percent over the course of their hospital stay were 57 percent more likely to be readmitted or die within a year than those whose levels dropped by a greater percentage.
Testing for NT-proBNP at the beginning and end of hospitalization, Michtalik says, could help doctors and hospitals make better decisions about which patients are truly ready to be released and which ones are at higher risk for relapse, readmission or worse. Typically, he adds, patients are already tested for this heart failure marker upon admission.
"These patients feel better. They look better. But this study suggests many of them may not be completely better," says Michtalik.
Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body, resulting in heart enlargement and fluid swelling. It is most often caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart valve disease and alcohol abuse. Roughly 5.7 million people in the US have heart failure, which kills about 300,000 each year, and results in repeat hospitalizations for many patients. Readmission rates are a focus of efforts to reduce health care costs, Michtalik notes.
"Our research suggests that maybe clinical judgment isn't enough to decide whether a heart failure patient is ready to be discharged," he says. "These patients may benefit from being treated until the heart failure marker, NT-proBNP, decreases by a certain percentage, something that is not considered now."
Michtalik says a good next step would be a prospective randomized trial that examines whether hospitalized heart failure patients do better when their doctors work intensively to decrease the heart failure marker over the course of their hospital stays.
MEDICA.de; Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions