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The High Tech Heart: New Scanner Shows Clear Images of Arteries

separator Each year, about 5 million people in the U.S. go to the emergency department because of chest pain. Most of them are not having a 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.

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