WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Most of us know about lab tests for high cholesterol and how important they are in helping prevent and control heart disease. But lab tests do much more—helping physicians prevent heart problems, diagnose heart attacks, and manage heart conditions. Diagnosing heart attacks One of the most important roles is helping physicians diagnose heart attacks, even when the symptoms are unclear. Doctors often use a test that measures the enzyme troponin that is released after a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, has occurred. A troponin test is often the first test that emergency rooms use because the protein appears early, giving physicians a clue to whether a heart attack is occurring. Troponin stays in the blood for as long as a week, allowing physicians to identify heart attacks and take action to prevent further damage even if the patient was slow to seek medical care. One study found that testing led to a 50% increase in patients diagnosed with a confirmed heart attack. "The troponin test can help save lives," said Alan Mertz, President of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA). "It helps physicians determine whether patients who come to the emergency room with chest pains are really having a heart attack. If so, patients can get immediate care; if not, they can go home without worry." The tests, which cost $25 and $50, may be able to help reduce the $12 billion spent every year on hospitalizing patients who are not actually experiencing heart attacks. Doctors also often perform another lab test called myoglobin along with the troponin test to diagnose or rule out a heart attack. Myoglobin is one of the first proteins to be released after a heart attack occurs.