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Heart attack scan could save lives

Published on 11 November 2013 01:30 PM

A new test could help identify people most at risk of suffering from a heart attack.

The method, developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, scans the heart using high resolution images and radioactive tracers.


It has the ability to identify the presence of dangerous fatty plaques in the arteries, which can lead to clots if they rupture.

Although not all of the plaques detected will cause a heart attack, experts believe the test could be useful for identifying high-risk patients who urgently need aggressive therapy.

The radioactive tracers are used to seek out active and dangerous plaques, while the high resolution images of the heart and blood vessels help to provide a picture of the main danger areas.

Findings from the new scan could assist doctors in deciding upon treatment for patients, whether they're prescribing drugs, suggesting lifestyle changes or offering medical procedures.

'Heart attacks are the biggest killer'

'Heart attacks are the biggest killer in the Western world and there is no prior warning, the first time people know about heart disease is when they have a heart attack,' said cardiologist Dr Marc Dweck.

'If we can treat and stabilise the plaques then we might be able to prevent heart attacks and stop people dying.'

Researchers from the university tested the method on 40 patients who had recently had a heart attack.

By using the high resolution images and radioactive tracers, they were able to highlight the plaque that caused heart attacks in 37 of the patients.

It is the first time that a scan has identified danger zones, although further research is needed to find out if the detection of dangerous plaques before, rather than after, a heart attack can actually save lives.

High-risk patients, including those who are about to have surgery, are to be examined to find out whether the scan really is a lifesaver.

There are more than 100,000 heart attacks in the UK each year, according to the British Heart Foundation, while heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK each year.

Dr Dweck said if the scan or similar ones proved successful it would make a 'massive difference' to the survival rate.

Copyright Press Association 2013

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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