MRI and computer technology are coming together to give doctors unprecedented views of the heart, and a new, non-invasive tool for predicting heart attacks.
Keith Weatherman is having a routine checkup with his cardiologist. A few months ago, he experienced shortness of breath and crushing chest pain. EKG tests found nothing, so his doctor ordered a new cardiac MRI stress test.
"Very simple, non-invasive, no radiation involved. Very quick results," Weatherman said.
Patients first have an MRI scan. Images are taken and simultaneously downloaded onto a computer program called Cardiovue. It then organizes hundreds of pictures to give doctors a real-time view of the heart, both at rest and under stress. With a standard MRI, it takes five minutes or more just to see the images.
"It helps us stratify and say, ‘Well, you are the one that's much more likely to have a heart attack if you have a positive MRI stress test, versus that individual that does not," said Greg Hundley, MD, cardiologist at Wake Forest University.
The MRI shows more detail than other tests, allowing doctors to watch the beating heart.
"The cardiac MRI provided a great deal more information in terms of his blood flow and the patterns of his heart that were receiving inadequate circulation," said John Hoyle, MD, cardiologist at Wake Forest University.
And because the program sorts the images during the stress test, it speeds the time from diagnosis to treatment.
"I was in the cath lab probably within an hour after the results were obtained and had some stents put in, and I was good to go after that," Weatherman said.
In fact, the new test found a 95-percent blockage in his heart that the EKG had missed!
Another advantage of the MRI stress test is it allows doctors to scan other parts of the body at the same time. Doctors said it's also particularly helpful for patients who are too sick to undergo a standard stress test, which requires them to walk on a treadmill for a period of time.