Lipoprotein (a)

Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a), is a type of LDL cholesterol. Your Lp(a) level is determined by your genes and isn't generally affected by lifestyle.

High levels of Lp(a) may be a sign of increased risk of heart disease, though it's not clear how much risk. Your doctor might order an Lp(a) test if you already have atherosclerosis or heart disease but appear to have otherwise normal cholesterol levels.

Lp(a) is often tested if you have a family history of early-onset heart disease or sudden death.

Drugs are in development to lower Lp(a), but it isn't yet clear what effect lowering Lp(a) will have on heart disease risk. People with high Lp(a) are generally advised to keep a low LDL cholesterol level.

Plasma ceramides

This new test measures levels of ceramides in the blood. Ceramides are produced by all cells and play a significant role in the growth, function and ultimately death of many types of tissue. Ceramides are transported through the blood by lipoproteins and are associated with atherosclerosis.

Three specific ceramides have been linked to plaque buildup in the arteries and insulin resistance. Elevated levels of these ceramides in the blood indicates a higher risk of cardiovascular disease within one to five years.

Natriuretic peptides

Brain natriuretic peptide, also called B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), is a protein that your heart and blood vessels produce. BNP helps your body eliminate fluids, relaxes blood vessels and funnels sodium into your urine.

When your heart is damaged, your body secretes high levels of BNP into your bloodstream to try to ease the strain on your heart. BNP levels may also rise if you have new or increasing chest pain (unstable angina) or after a heart attack.

Your BNP level can help in the diagnosis and evaluation of heart failure and other heart conditions. Normal levels vary according to age and gender and whether you are overweight. One of the most important uses of BNP is to try to sort out whether shortness of breath is due to heart failure.

For people who have heart failure, establishing a baseline BNP can be helpful and future tests can be used to help gauge how well your treatment works. A variation of BNP called N-terminal BNP also is useful in diagnosing heart failure and in some laboratories is used instead of BNP. N-terminal BNP may also be useful in evaluating your risk of a heart attack and other problems if you already have heart disease.

A high level of BNP alone isn't enough to diagnose a heart problem. Your doctor will also consider your risk factors and other blood test results.

Dec. 07, 2016 See more In-depth