New Heart Scan

A scan has been developed that could help doctors identify fatty build-ups (plaques) in the arteries. These plaques are characteristic of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease and can trigger a heart attack if they rupture.

The Pumping Marvellous Foundation
The Pumping Marvellous Foundation – the UK’s heart failure charity

The news comes from a study that tested the use of a PETCT scanner to identify “high-risk” plaques that had, or could, rupture. The PET-CT scan uses a radioactively labelled chemical to produce 3D images. The chemical normally used is a glucose-like substance which is taken up by body tissues. However, recent studies suggest that sodium fluoride (NaF) is a more effective way of identifying plaques.

The current study involved 40 people who recently had a heart attack and 40 people with stable angina. The patients had PET-CT scans using either FDG or NaF as the radioactively labelled chemical. They were also tested using coronary angiography, which is currently the gold-standard method of looking at blockages in the heart arteries.

In almost all of the people who had had a heart attack, NaF was taken up by the “culprit” fatty deposits that had caused the blockage. The results also confirmed that NaF was better than FDG at showing these blockages. Almost half of the people with stable angina were found to have high-risk deposits using the NaF technique.

While this sounds promising, only a small number of patients have been studied. It remains to be seen whether the new test improves outcomes for people with coronary heart disease.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge, and was funded by the Scottish Chief Scientist Office and the British Heart Foundation.

It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

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