The High Tech Heart: New Scanner Shows Clear Images of Arteries
Each year, about 5 million people in the U.S. go to the
emergency department because of chest pain. Most of them are not
heart attack or other serious problem. But doctors often feel that these
patients need to have an invasive procedure to determine what the problem is.
A new type of CT scan is making it possible for doctors to
see images of the heart they’ve never been able to see before. It’s called a
“volume CT scanner.” It can take 64 images in about 15 seconds. Images from the
volume CT scanner can help doctors rule out three extremely serious diagnoses:
- Coronary artery disease
- Blood clot in the lung
- Aortic dissection (This occurs when the inner layer of
the heart’s aorta splits open. John Ritter, the actor, died of aortic
dissection in 2003.)
The images that the scanner produces allow doctors to see
the heart in three dimensions, which hasn’t been possible before. The images are
extremely clear because of the high speed of the scanner’s camera. Doctors can
visualize the condition of the coronary arteries so clearly that they often
don’t have to perform a diagnostic angiogram, which is an invasive procedure.
Beneficial for people age about 40 to 60
The Volume CT scanner is most appropriate for a younger
population, people aged about 40 to 60 who have had chest pain, have taken
stress tests and had results that are not conclusive. Generally, with an older
population there’s more of a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which makes the
images from the Volume CT scanner less clear.
Patients in scanner a short time
The new scanner is fairly easy on patients. They usually
spend just a few minutes inside the scanner itself. Contrast dye is injected,
and then the scanner takes its high-speed images.