A blood test which could help to identify people at the highest risk of dying from heart failure has been described as "an exciting new development" by a University of Oxford professor.

New research suggests that this inexpensive and straightforward test could recognise patients most at risk.

The study discovered that over three years, those with high levels of a specific protein were 50 per cent more likely to die from a heart complication.

Experts believe that testing for this protein, named neuropeptide Y (NPY), could foresee the progression of heart failure.

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Researchers have hopes that within five years, a blood test could guide treatment for heart failure patients.

Dr Neil Herring, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and consultant cardiologist at the University of Oxford, said: "The findings of this research are an exciting new development, building on over 10 years of collaborative research on this stress hormone.

"We hope our research will ultimately benefit the increasing number of patients who are living with the debilitating effects of heart failure daily.

"Next, we will investigate whether measuring for very high levels neuropeptide Y could influence whether patients can get lifesaving treatment like implantable cardioverter-defibrillator's before the blood test can be rolled out within five years."

Heart failure, which affects around one million people in the UK with roughly 200,000 new diagnoses each year, occurs when the heart does not pump blood around the body efficiently.

It often leads to hospital visits, reduces quality of life, and currently, there is no known cure.

The study analysed information from more than 800 participants with varying stages of heart failure.

These individuals were then assessed for levels of the hormone B-Type Natriuretic Peptide (BNP), which is used in the diagnosis of heart failure.

Findings showed a third of the participants had high NPY levels, elevating their risk of dying from a heart complication by 50 per cent within the three-year follow-up period, compared to those with lower levels.

Researchers propose that measuring NPY alongside BNP could help diagnose heart failure patients, especially those at higher risk of death.

The chief scientific and medical officer at the British Heart Foundation, Professor Bryan Williams, said: "This new research suggests that a new, cheap and simple blood test could help us in future to more accurately spot which patients with heart failure are at the highest risk of early death.

"It is only through funding lifesaving research like this that we can continue to push the boundaries and ensure that people with heart failure receive the best and most suitable treatment to help them live well."