A blood test could spare heart patients from deadly repeat attacks in a development that could save thousands of lives, Sheffield academics have found.
One in five people who have had a heart attack will suffer another episode within 12 months, despite treatment with aspirin and other anti-clotting medicines.
While these drugs are proven to reduce the chances of another attack, side effects can including bleeding in the stomach and, in rare cases, the brain.
But now scientists believe they have discovered the ‘sweet spot’, minimising the potentially-catastrophic risk of both.
By using their new test, doctors can give bigger doses to patients at the highest risk but also reduce unnecessary medication for those who do not need it.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield analysed blood samples from more than 4,300 patients as they were discharged from hospital.
They measured the maximum density of a clot and the time it took for the clot to break down – known as clot lysis time.
The study found those with the longest clot lysis time were nearly twice as likely to die from a heart attack within a year.
The discovery could help to determine who is most is at risk, allowing treatment to be tailored to individuals.
Cardiovascular disease is Britain’s biggest killer, causing 155,000 deaths each year.
The latest findings, published in the European Heart Journal, showed novel therapies targeting fibrin clot lysis time may improve prognosis for patients.
Professor Rob Storey, from the university’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said there had been ‘huge strides’ in improving prognosis.
"Our findings provide exciting clues as to why some patients are at higher risk after heart attack and how we might address this with new treatments in the future."
Professor Storey added: "We now need to press ahead with exploring possibilities for tailoring treatment to an individual’s risk following a heart attack and testing whether drugs that improve clot lysis time can reduce this risk."