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A New Test in Town for Chronic Heart Failure: Galectin-3 Test

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I have to admit that I’ve always thought of chronic heart failure, commonly referred to as congestive heart failure, as a condition that developed in older persons during their declining years. Since my years are – at least in my opinion – a far cry from being in the declining stage, learning about heart failure hasn’t been on my high list of heart conditions to watch. That is, it wasn’t only my heart condition watch list until recently when a good friend of mine called to tell me he’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure? Yikes! He’s only a couple of years older than I am and we were all left wondering how this happened to someone still so young – at least young by our definition!

The truth is that heart failure can happen to anyone but there are certain risk factors that make you more susceptible. Although coronary artery or heart disease remains the number one cause of heart failure, other conditions such as high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, previous heart attack, damaged or defective heart muscles or valves, sleep apnea, and heart arrhythmias - just to name a few - also lead to an increased risk of heart failure. (Mayo Clinic 1.)

Heart failure is a condition that can be ongoing or chronic. The heart continues to beat but not at maximum efficiency. The damage caused by the various risk factors and conditions leave behind a heart that isn’t able to properly do its job and supply oxygen in the needed amounts to the rest of the organs in the body. Simply put, heart failure means that the heart can’t keep up with the supply and demand for blood and oxygen.

Unfortunately, many people do not even know that they have heart failure or that they are at risk for heart failure until a medical event triggers the diagnosis. There are a variety of tests available to physicians that aide in making a diagnosis of heart failure including blood tests, chest X-rays, electrocardiogram or ECG, echocardiogram, stress test, angiogram, cardiac computerized tomography or CT scan, and magnetic resonance imaging or MRI. Now, there’s a new diagnostic test available to physicians which may lead to earlier diagnosis of heart failure. (Mayo 2)

In November, 2010, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a new test to measure the levels of a protein, galectin-3, in patients with chronic heart failure. Developed by BG Medicine, Inc., the test for galectin-3 is the first such test approved by the FDA. Detecting the presence of galectin-3 is important because it’s been linked to the development of a specific type of heart failure caused by “stiffening” of the heart muscle. It’s thought that about 30 percent of all heart failure cases are linked to galectin-3. (BG Medicine 1.)

The ability to detect the presence of galectin-3 can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, including interventions focused on treating the underlying cause of heart failure. Almost 6 million people in the United States alone are living with heart failure. Of the more than 670,000 newly diagnosed each year, 20 percent will not live to see year two. The hope is that earlier intervention and specialized treatment plans will ultimately lead to an improved survivability for heart failure patients.

Mary Kyle is a freelance writer, editor, and project manager. She has a Master’s degree in Legal Studies and is a certified Project Management Professional. She has two children’s books to her credit and has authored or co-authored hundreds of articles. A songwriter and musician, she is a member of several bands and performs regularly.

BG Medicine Announces FDA 510(k) Clearance of its Galectin-3 Test for Use in Patients with Chronic Heart Failure, 23 Nov 2010, http://www.galectin-3.com/2010/11/bg-medicine-announces-fda-510k-clearance-of-its-galectin-3-test-for-use-in-patients-with-chronic-heart-failure/

Chronic Heart Failure, The Mayo Clinic, 22 Mar 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061

Heart Failure Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_failure.htm

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