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Are serum troponin levels elevated in conditions other than acute coronary syndrome?

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Yes. Sepsis, stroke, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease, chemotherapy, heart failure, and stress cardiomyopathy can all raise serum troponin concentrations, and in some cases the elevations are prognostically important. Careful clinical assessment, serial monitoring of troponin levels, and other supportive tests are usually necessary to tell whether troponin elevations are due to acute coronary syndrome or to these other causes.


Troponin, an intracellular protein found in skeletal and cardiac muscle cells, is essential for muscle contraction. Troponin T and troponin I are clinically equivalent, and both are biomarkers of myocardial damage.

A troponin assay is ordered when patients present with sudden onset of symptoms of acute coronary syndrome such as chest pain, dyspnea, diaphoresis, and electrocardiographic abnormalities. The assay is positive when the manufacturer-specified threshold corresponding to a concentration above the 99th percentile is detected.

Serial testing of serum biomarkers of acute myocardial damage is essential to confirm the diagnosis of myocardial infarction. Because of their higher sensitivity and specificity compared with creatine kinase-MB and other markers, troponins are the preferred biomarker in diagnosing acute coronary syndrome.

In 1984, Piper et al 1 reported that free cytosolic pools of cardiac enzymes could be released after reversible myocardial injury as a result of temporary disruption of the cell membrane. This upended the previous assumption that troponin was released only after irreversible myocardial necrosis, and it provided an explanation for troponin elevations observed in conditions with no evidence of epicardial coronary artery disease or permanent myocardial damage. 1


Studies of patients with sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock have shown troponin elevations with no evidence of acute coronary syndrome. 2 In sepsis, troponin elevations are presumed to be caused by a combination of events. Renal dysfunction leads to decreased clearance of troponin fragments by the kidneys. The massive inflammatory response in septic shock results in cytokine-induced cardiac damage, and increased levels of endogen­ous and exogenous catecholamines damage cardiac myocytes. 3

Studies of the prognostic value of these elevations have produced mixed and contradictory results. But a 2013 meta-analysis 4 showed that patients with a troponin elevation at the time of diagnosis of sepsis had a risk of death almost twice that of patients without a troponin elevation (relative risk 1.91, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.63–2.24).


Acute ischemic stroke can trigger troponin elevations in several ways. Since the risk factors for acute ischemic stroke and coronary stenosis are similar, patients who have an ischemic stroke have a higher risk of coronary atherosclerosis and coronary stenosis than the general population. 5

Stroke can cause a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory responses (eg, tachyarrhythmia, hypertensive crisis, respiratory failure) that increase the stress on the myocardium. In patients with stroke and concurrent coronary artery stenosis, the increased metabolic demand can exceed the oxygen supply capacity, resulting in myocardial ischemia, which can manifest as increased levels of serum troponin. 5

Stroke can also cause troponin elevation through neurogenic myocardial damage. Ischemic stroke and intracranial hemorrhage can trigger alterations in autonomic control. Sometimes this results in increased sympathetic activity with concomitant catecholamine surge, leading to contraction band necrosis and other forms of myocardial damage and, as a result, troponin elevation. 5,6 This may explain troponin elevation in patients with acute ischemic stroke in the absence of concomitant coronary artery disease. Recent evidence suggests that patients with acute ischemic stroke and elevated troponin had significantly less angiographic evidence of coronary artery disease than matched patients with non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction. 7


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