Examining patient records to pick out those at high risk of developing heart disease is cheaper and just as effective as screening all adults aged between 40 and 74, a British study showed on Monday.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, raises doubts about a $387 million a year screening program launched by the British government in 2008 and suggests funds may be better spent on high-risk patients.

Simon Griffin of the epidemiology unit of Britain's Medical Research Council, who led the study, said it showed with healthcare budgets squeezed by global recession and a growing burden of chronic disease, health authorities should think carefully about pricey heart screening plans.

"A universal screening program for cardiovascular disease might prevent an important number of new cardiovascular events ... but it may be unrealistic to implement in increasingly resource-constrained health systems," he wrote in the study.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in Europe, the United States and other developed nations. Its costs to the British economy are estimated at $46.4 billion a year, while the American Heart Association estimates heart disease and stroke will cost the United States an estimated $503.2 billion in 2010.

Griffin and colleagues assessed data from almost 17,000 European men and women between the ages of 40 and 74 who had no heart disease or diabetes at the start of the study.