Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounted for just over 27 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2005. Doctors are providing hope in the face of this problem through the development of a test that can provide a better picture of heart failure risk. They have set standards on what is considered "normal" in the test results.
Doctors perform a simple blood draw on the patient who thinks she may be at risk for heart failure. Lab technicians then identify how much B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is present in the blood. BNP is a neurohormone produced by the heart. It is only produced when the heart is stressed, so high levels of BNP in the blood are considered a bad sign. Low levels of BNP in the blood mean that the heart is working well and that the risk for heart failure is low.
The BNP test cannot predict with 100 percent accuracy that a person is going to develop heart failure. With good diet and exercise, some heart problems can be reversed (or at least prevented from worsening). High numbers in the test results thus reveal only who is at increased mortality risk and are not a predictor of whether death is absolutely eminent. It is important for understanding what treatment regime a person has to undergo in order to get the heart to function normally.
In general, low levels of BNP indicate a healthy heart; risk of mortality increases as BNP levels rise. The Mayo Clinic reported in 2009 that doctors don't consider you to be at risk of heart failure if your BNP blood test results are 100 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL) or less. Results between 100 and 300 pg/mL reveal possible heart failure, and results of 300 pg/mL or more prompt a heart failure diagnosis.
The BNP blood test should not be used as the sole assessment of heart failure risk. It should be combined with other tests that measure heart function. The C-reactive protein test, for instance, can help confirm a heart failure diagnosis because it measures the amount of inflammatory response that is occurring in the body. Inflammation is linked to fatty deposits clogging arteries. Other tests that can be used in conjunction with the BNP test include the fibrinogen, homosysteine, cholesterol and lipoprotein-A tests.
The Next Steps
If you have elevated BNP levels, your doctor may work with you to develop a treatment plan that may include dietary changes, exercise, and/or medications. If your BNP levels show your heart is failing, then you may need dietary changes, medications or in the worst case scenario, a heart transplant. You doctor will prescribe treatment based on how severely compromised your heart is. No matter what the results show, you may be advised not to abuse alcohol or drugs, as these place unnecessary stress on the heart.