BACKGROUND: Natriuretic peptide (NP) testing is recommended for patients presenting to primary care with symptoms of chronic heart failure (HF) to prioritise referral for diagnosis. AIM: To report NP test performance at European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline referral thresholds. DESIGN AND SETTING: Diagnostic accuracy study using linked primary and secondary care data (2004 to 2018). METHOD: The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of NP testing for HF diagnosis was assessed. RESULTS: In total, 229 580 patients had an NP test and 21 102 (9.2%) were diagnosed with HF within 6 months. The ESC NT-proBNP threshold ≥125 pg/mL had a sensitivity of 94.6% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 94.2 to 95.0) and specificity of 50.0% (95% CI = 49.7 to 50.3), compared with sensitivity of 81.7% (95% CI = 81.0 to 82.3) and specificity of 80.3% (95% CI = 80.0 to 80.5) for the NICE NT-proBNP ≥400 pg/mL threshold. PPVs for an NT-proBNP test were 16.4% (95% CI = 16.1 to 16.6) and 30.0% (95% CI = 29.6 to 30.5) for ESC and NICE thresholds, respectively. For both guidelines, nearly all patients with an NT-proBNP level below the threshold did not have HF (NPV: ESC 98.9%, 95% CI = 98.8 to 99.0 and NICE 97.7%, 95% CI = 97.6 to 97.8). CONCLUSION: At the higher NICE chronic HF guideline NP thresholds, one in five cases are initially missed in primary care but the lower ESC thresholds require more diagnostic assessments. NP is a reliable 'rule-out' test at both cut-points. The optimal NP threshold will depend on the priorities and capacity of the healthcare system.
The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners