Combination CT Scans May Make Heart Tests Easier

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Heart disease is a nasty enough problem. It would be nice if the tests you have to go through just to get your diagnosis didn’t cause so much unpleasantness of their own. Now they may not have to, thanks to a combination CT scan developed by doctors at Johns Hopkins University.

Typically, patients with suspected arterial blockage undergo either a two-hour SPECT scan, in which a radioactive dye is injected into the body, or an angiogram, in which a catheter is threaded into the heart vessels. In a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, the Hopkins team described how a pair of noninvasive CT scans — one that detects plaque buildup and one that measures blood or flow — can be nearly as accurate as either traditional test. (More on 6 Common Sources of Radiation In Your Life)

The new system comes up short in some categories — detecting only 71% of the cases of reduced blood flow that SPECT does and 90% of the severely clogged arteries spotted by a combination SPECT and angiogram, for example. But the brevity of the scans — about 30 mins. — and their low radiation level are big advantages. The CTs could also help prevent the 250,00 or so catheterizations that take place each year to fix blockages that turn out not to exist.

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