Doctors Use CT Scans To Identify Dangerous Heart Plaques

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Beaumont Hospital cardiologists have just published a first-of-its-kind study showing that unstable coronary plaques, that cause most heart attacks, can be identified before a heart attack occurs using noninvasive computed tomographic angiography.

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"Our research shows that coronary CT angiography can detect which plaques are a heart attack waiting to happen and this may allow doctors to intervene before an event occurs" says James Goldstein, M.D., lead author and Beaumont's director of cardiology research and medical education. "We think that the really dangerous artery blockages can be identified on CT scan and addressed immediately."

In the Beaumont study, 49 people came to the hospital with acute chest pain but without an obvious heart attack. They had CT scans that documented unstable plaques with a characteristic appearance that identified them as dangerous. These findings were subsequently confirmed in all cases by invasive heart catheterization.

According to Dr. Goldstein, based on these findings it should be possible to document which patients with acute chest pain are at highest risk for heart attack. Unstable plaques are thought to arise from "vulnerable plaques" that are usually silent until they become unstable and cause catastrophic heart attacks. He adds that this is the first of further studies that will need to be done to establish the sensitivity, specificity and predictive accuracy of CT scans for these various types of plaques.

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