The B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a biomarker that is used to diagnose or evaluate the severity of a heart failure incident. When combined with other tests, it can also be used to detect how much stress a heart is enduring or if damage has occurred. It may be ordered with lung function tests to determine why someone may be struggling with a shortness of breath issue as well.
The reason why this blood test is effective is because the biomarkers are released when the heart has to work harder in order to do its job. When there is unusual fatigue, swelling in the legs, feet, or abdomen, and this is accompanied by a shortness of breath, the the proBNP blood test can be used to begin the evaluation of risk for a future heart issue.
Although this test may be ordered during a medical appointment or used over a period of time to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment plan, the proBNP blood test is most commonly ordered in emergency situations when someone goes to the hospital with chest pains.
How Common Is Heart Failure?
Information from the NHLB Institute suggests that nearly 6 million people in the United States are living with some form of heart failure. As the Baby Boomer population continues to reach retirement age, this number is expected to grow. Certain risk factors can increase the chances of heart failure occurring as well, so along with the proBNP blood test, a medical provider may make certain recommendations.
- If you are overweight, you will be encouraged to begin losing weight at a healthy pace of 1-2 pounds per week.
- If you have diabetes, you will be encouraged to continue managing the disease with diet and exercise choices.
- If you have had a previous heart attack, you will be encouraged to follow the treatment plan that has been developed for you.
Men are more likely to suffer from heart failure than women, which makes them more likely to be given the proBNP blood test at some point in their lives. People who severely abuse alcohol or illicit drugs may also have a higher than normal test result even though their heart health is good. Smoking may also affect the results.
What Do My Test Results Mean?
Having some BNP in the blood isn’t unusual. The presence of these biomarkers at low or normal levels is a result that most people will have. As the aging process occurs, the biomarkers tend to increase their levels as well. A test result that is higher than normal, however, is an indicator that there has been some degree of heart failure which has occurred. High biomarker levels are directly associated with a worsening prognosis.
If someone has normal test results, but have the symptoms of a heart condition, then this is a strong indication that the symptoms are being caused by something other than the heart.
The proBNP test results can be affected by certain medication or lifestyle habits. People who are taking beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, or diuretics will have lower levels of the biomarker in their blood and this could product a false negative. For this reason, be sure to speak with a medical provider about caffeine consumption habits as the stimulant can act as a diuretic and affect the results.
What Happens Next?
If heart failure is suspected, the goal will be to immediately treat the condition. Although it is called “failure,” the heart is still beating. The description only refers to the fact that the heart is not moving blood as efficiently as it is supposed to be. This could be due to injury, high blood pressure, or even defects within the heart valve.
Higher than normal test results on the proBNP blood test generally indicate that a person’s condition is both serious and progressive. It is also usually a chronic condition and is remarkably common. For the 65+ age demographic, heart failure is the #1 cause of hospitalization in the United States.
Knowing how a heart is functioning is necessary for an accurate diagnosis and the development of an effective treatment plan that can prolong life. The proBNP blood test is just one tool that is used by a medical provider to accomplish those goals. If you’ve had this test, then speak with your medical provider about what your results mean and if heart failure is something you should be concerned about. That may be the first step you take on the road to recovery.