The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that around 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack every year. Now, scientists have created a new imaging technique that could identify which patients are at high risk. This is according to a study published in the The Lancet.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the UK say the test - carried out using positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) - is able to "light up" dangerous fatty plaques in the arteries that are in danger of rupturing. This is a process that can cause heart attacks.
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed 80 patients. Of these, 40 patients recently had a heart attack, while the other 40 patients had angina - restricted blood supply to the heart posing a higher risk of heart attack.
'First step' towards heart attack prevention
Using the PET-CT scanner, the researchers found that 90% of patients who had a heart attack showed a "lit up" yellow area in one of their blood vessels. This area corresponded exactly to the location of the plaque that caused the patients' heart attacks, the researchers say.
The scanner also showed lit up plaques in around 40% of the patients with angina. Furthermore, the researchers found "high-risk" features in these patients that suggested a heart attack may be imminent, meaning they were in need of aggressive drug treatment or surgery.
Dr. Marc Dweck, of the University of Edinburgh and lead study author, says their findings are a step toward heart attack prevention:
"We have developed what we hope is a way to 'light up' plaques on the brink of rupturing and causing a heart attack.
If we could know how close a person is to having a heart attack, we could step in with medication or surgery before the damage is done. This is a first step towards that goal."
Potential for identifying 'ticking time bomb' patients
Image credit: University of Edinburgh
Prof. Peter Weissburg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation in the UK, which part-funded the study, notes that the technique looks promising:
"Being able to identify dangerous fatty plaques likely to cause a heart attack is something that conventional heart tests can't do. This research suggests that PET-CT scanning may provide an answer - identifying 'ticking time bomb' patients at risk of a heart attack."
"We now need to confirm these findings, and then understand how best to use new tests like this in the clinic to benefit heart patients," he adds.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that DIY and gardening could reduce the risk of heart attack.