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N Z Med J. 1997 Mar 14;110(1039):71-4.

Rapid assay of plasma brain natriuretic peptide in the assessment of acute dyspnoea.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology, Christchurch School of Medicine and Radiology, Christchurch Hospital.



Recognition of heart failure may be difficult in patients presenting with acute dyspnoea, particularly in the presence of chronic airways obstruction or obesity. In a previous study of patients with acute dyspnoea, we showed that the measurement of plasma brain natriuretic peptide (BNP)-a hormone secreted in increased amounts by the failing heart-accurately distinguishes heart failure from primary lung disorder. The aim of the present study was to develop a rapid assay for BNP and evaluate its diagnostic use in patients acutely hospitalised for increasing dyspnoea of any cause.


A rapid assay for plasma BNP, providing results within 24 h of blood collection, was developed without loss of precision. The results of the rapid and previously established BNP assays were highly correlated (r = 0.9). To determine the diagnostic value of the rapid assay, measurements were undertaken on the day of admission in 123 breathless patients (mean age 68.3, range 23 to 90 years) and related to conventional diagnostic assessments and final outcome.


In patients diagnosed and treated urgently for clinical heart failure, plasma BNP was significantly higher (115 (SE 13) pmol/L, n = 39) than in those without clinical heart failure (33 (5) pmol/L, n = 84, p < 0.001). Using a cut-off of 50 pmol/L for the presence of heart failure, there was discordance between BNP level and clinical diagnosis in 21 of 123 cases. Reassessment after independent analysis of discordant cases increased the difference in BNP level in the presence (123 (13) pmol/L, n = 43) or absence (24 (1.5) pmol/L, n = 80) of heart failure. Using two way analysis of variance, no further improvement in discrimination was found when chest radiographs were used together with the BNP data.


Rapid BNP assays are practicable and provide accurate information on cardiac status-superior to chest radiographs in many cases-early in the course of the patient's presentation with acute dyspnoea.

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