A new study shows that CT scans are better for cardiovascular diagnosis than stress tests. The results were discussed at the American College of Cardiology conference that took place in San Diego on March 16.
It seems CTs can help doctors more than standardized tests when it comes to correctly diagnosing heart disease in patients who experienced chest pains, thus minimizing the risk of them developing heart attacks. Patients with chest pains are usually suspected to be suffering from a heart condition which can be caused by clogged blood vessels that inhibit the blood from flowing continuously.
According to lead researcher Dr. David Newby, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, “a CT scan clarifies the diagnosis, changes treatments and may reduce the risk of a heart attack.”
He explained that chest pain, also known as angina, is when patients feel “a tightness in the chest” which appears when they strain themselves.
In the clinic, patients are usually tested using various methods: myocardial perfusion scans (a method that uses a radioactive tracer to determine blood flow level), an ultrasound ‘echo’ scan, an MRI or a coronary angiogram.
Standard testing for such patients include an electrocardiogram and a stress test. The electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) determines the cardiac electrical activity. The information is transferred onto a sheet of paper through line tracings. A stress test is usually performed using one of two methods: either walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike. These activities are performed at increasing levels of difficulty, in order to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and EKG.
A CT scan is a machine that scans the body from different angles using X-rays. The data is processed by a computer, resulting in cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues.
The study showed that after CT scans, 25 percent of cases were given a different diagnosis. Standard tests modified the diagnosis in only 1 percent of cases. CT scans also caused changes in therapy in 23 percent of cases in comparison to the standard testing that modified the treatment in only 5 percent of cases.
Reexaminations were performed 20 months later. Results showed that the number of heart attacks in patients examined via CT scans decreased by 38 percent.
Although results are promising, one needs to also think about the risk of exposing a patient to frequent doses of radiation.
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