Researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) found that a hormone detected in a blood test can identify patients with sickle cell disease who have developed pulmonary hypertension. They also found that the same hormone is a clear predictor of death in adult sickle cell patients. The study is published in the July 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The hormone, called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), is released by the heart ventricles and helps predict death in heart failure patients.

Lead scientist Roberto Machado, M.D., an investigator with NHLBI’s vascular medicine branch, and colleagues, measured BNP levels in 230 patients with sickle cell disease enrolled in the NIH Pulmonary Hypertension Screening Study between 2001 and 2005.

The scientists found that high blood levels of BNP greater than 160 pg/mL in these patients independently predicted mortality, increasing the risk of death by as high as fivefold.

The team also found that BNP levels could help identify the patients with pulmonary hypertension. According to Dr Machado, “Measurement of BNP levels is a good surrogate for echocardiograms for the diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension in sickle cell disease since in patients who had a BNP of 160 pg/mL or higher had a 78 percent chance of having pulmonary hypertension identified by echocardiogram.”