Understanding troponin part 1

Podcast – Understanding Troponin – Part 1

Welcome to the St. Emlyn’s podcast. In this episode, the first in a special series, we’re diving into the fascinating world of troponins, those vital biomarkers that play a crucial role in diagnosing myocardial injury. Whether you’re a seasoned clinician or a medical student just starting, understanding troponins is essential for effective patient care. We’ll cover everything from the basics to advanced concepts, ensuring you have a comprehensive grasp of this critical topic.

Listening Time – 20:58

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Troponins in Emergency Medicine

What are Troponins?

Troponins are proteins found in muscle tissue, playing a key role in muscle contraction. They’re often misunderstood as cardiac enzymes, but they’re actually proteins involved in the contractile apparatus within muscle cells. Troponins exist in three forms: Troponin I, Troponin T, and Troponin C. These proteins work together within muscle fibers to regulate muscle contractions.

Why are Troponins Important in Cardiology?

Troponins are crucial biomarkers for diagnosing myocardial injury. When heart muscle is damaged, troponins are released into the bloodstream. This release can occur due to various conditions, including myocardial infarction (heart attack) and other forms of stress on the heart. Measuring troponin levels in the blood helps clinicians determine the extent of myocardial injury and make informed decisions about patient care.

The Difference Between Cardiac and Skeletal Troponins

It’s important to note that troponins are present in both skeletal and cardiac muscle. However, the cardiac-specific isoforms of Troponin I and Troponin T can be detected through blood tests, allowing clinicians to specifically identify myocardial damage. This specificity is a significant advancement over previous markers like CK, LDH, and ALT, which were not cardiac-specific and took longer to rise in the bloodstream.

When are Troponins Released into the Blood?

Troponins are released into the bloodstream when there is myocardial injury. This injury can result from various causes, such as acute myocardial infarction, physical stress, or other conditions that strain the heart. Understanding that troponins indicate myocardial injury rather than just myocardial infarction is crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

The Kinetics of Troponin Release

Following myocardial injury, troponin levels typically peak in the blood within 12 to 24 hours. The time it takes for troponin levels to fall depends on several factors, including the severity of the injury, the patient’s renal function, and whether there is ongoing troponin release into the blood. For example, patients with significant myocardial infarction might take weeks to clear troponins from their bloodstream, while those with smaller injuries might clear them within a day.

Troponins and Renal Failure

A common question is whether troponin tests are useful in patients with renal failure. The answer is a resounding yes. Although patients with renal failure may have elevated baseline troponin levels due to reduced clearance, troponin testing remains a valuable diagnostic tool. It’s essential to interpret these levels in the context of the patient’s renal function and look for trends in troponin levels through serial testing.

Understanding Troponin Assays

Troponin tests are immunoassays, which means they use antibodies to target specific parts of the troponin molecule. These antibodies are attached to a signal that emits light, allowing for the quantification of troponin levels in the blood. While lab-based assays are highly accurate, point-of-care testing devices are also available, though they may not be as sensitive or precise as lab tests.

The Role of Point-of-Care Testing

Point-of-care testing devices, such as handheld analyzers, offer quick results and can be used at the bedside. However, they may not match the sensitivity and precision of lab-based assays. Some portable devices provide qualitative results, similar to a home pregnancy test, while others offer quantitative measurements. Clinicians should be aware of these differences and use point-of-care devices appropriately.

Analytical vs. Diagnostic Sensitivity

When discussing troponin assays, it’s crucial to differentiate between analytical sensitivity and diagnostic sensitivity. Analytical sensitivity refers to the assay’s ability to detect low concentrations of troponin reliably. In contrast, diagnostic sensitivity pertains to the assay’s ability to correctly identify patients with the condition being tested for, such as acute myocardial infarction. High-sensitivity troponin assays have improved both analytical and diagnostic sensitivity, enabling earlier and more accurate diagnosis.

Timing of Troponin Testing

In the UK, troponin testing typically starts from the time of symptom onset. This approach differs from other countries where testing begins upon the patient’s arrival in the emergency department. The timing of troponin testing is crucial, as early testing can lack sensitivity. Serial sampling over several hours helps ensure accurate diagnosis, with a common practice being to test initially and then again at intervals such as six, ten, or twelve hours after symptom onset.

Interpreting Troponin Levels in Clinical Practice

Interpreting troponin levels requires considering the clinical context and pre-test probability. A positive troponin test in a patient with low pre-test probability of myocardial infarction may not indicate a true positive. Conversely, a negative test in a high-risk patient does not entirely rule out disease, especially if there is potential for a late troponin rise. Clinicians must integrate troponin results with other diagnostic information to make informed decisions.

Troponins in Renal Failure

Patients with renal failure often have elevated baseline troponin levels due to impaired clearance. However, troponin testing remains valuable for diagnosing myocardial injury in these patients. It’s essential to understand the baseline level for each patient and focus on changes in troponin levels over time, rather than a single measurement. Serial sampling helps differentiate chronic elevation from acute myocardial injury.

Diagnosing Unstable Angina

It’s important to recognize that unstable angina can occur without elevated troponin levels. These patients may not show a rise and fall in troponin but still have significant coronary artery disease that requires attention. Clinical judgment, along with other diagnostic tools like ECG and patient history, is vital in diagnosing and managing unstable angina.

Key Takeaways for Clinicians

  • Troponins are proteins involved in muscle contraction and are critical biomarkers for diagnosing myocardial injury.
  • Cardiac-specific isoforms of Troponin I and Troponin T are used to detect myocardial damage through blood tests.
  • Troponins are released into the blood following myocardial injury, not just myocardial infarction.
  • The timing of troponin testing is crucial, with serial sampling providing more accurate results.
  • Point-of-care testing devices offer quick results but may lack the sensitivity and precision of lab-based assays.
  • Interpreting troponin levels requires considering the clinical context and pre-test probability.
  • Troponin testing is valuable in patients with renal failure, focusing on changes in levels over time.
  • Unstable angina can occur without elevated troponin levels, requiring careful clinical evaluation.


Understanding troponins and their role in diagnosing myocardial injury is essential for clinicians. From the basics of what troponins are to the nuances of interpreting test results, this knowledge is crucial for providing the best care to patients with suspected cardiac conditions. Stay tuned for our next episode, where we’ll delve deeper into high-sensitivity troponin assays and their impact on emergency medicine.

For any questions or further discussion, feel free to comment on the blog post or email us. We’re here to help and look forward to continuing this conversation. Until next time, take care and keep learning!

Podcast Transcription

Where to listen

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Cite this article as: Iain Beardsell, "Podcast – Understanding Troponin – Part 1," in St.Emlyn's, July 27, 2014, https://www.stemlynsblog.org/podcast-troponin/.

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