Research Finds CT Scans Best Way to Detect Heart Risks
Scottish researchers are advising doctors to use CT scans in the diagnosis of patients with chest pains, following new evidence that the use of these scans considerably affects the tests and treatments administered to patients. They say that CT scans, as opposed to the standard testing which is currently routine, are much better at spotting heart problems sooner.
“The chest pain, or angina, is a tightness in the chest which comes on when they exert themselves,” says chief investigator Dr David Newby, of the University of Edinburgh. “Patients are usually seen in the clinic and can undergo a range of potential tests that could include a myocardial perfusion scan, which measures blood flow to the heart with a radioactive tracer, and ultrasound ‘echo’ scan, an MRI or a coronary angiogram.”
Dr Newby and his team conducted a study which shows that these standard tests may not always be enough to detect heart problems as soon as possible, and demonstrated that CT scans could improve the accuracy of diagnoses.
Standard Testing Compared to CT Scans
The researchers studied the medical records of over 4,100 patients who were treated for chest pain. Some patients were given standard testing and others were randomly assigned to receive a CT scan.
It was found that the CT scans changed the initial diagnosis in 25% of cases, compared to 1% of cases in those receiving only standard care. The scans also had a much more significant impact on which further tests were performed and which treatments were decided upon. During the following 20 months, the number of heart attacks was 38% lower in those who had CT scans.
“A CT scan clarifies the diagnosis, changes treatments and may reduce the risk of a heart attack,” says Dr Newby.
No Major Disadvantages Found
Researchers at Duke University’s Heart Center examined the difference in cost between standard testing and CT scans and found that the “differences in cost are not statistically significant”. Their study of 10,000 patients with chest pain showed that CT scans did tend to increase medical bills because they would highlight the need for further procedures, but lead researcher Dr Daniel Mark commented that “the surgeries may well have improved the survival of the people who received them.”
Dr Newby has also pointed out that radiation from CT scans is low and less than 2% of patients in his study experienced mild and brief side effects from the scan.
While more long-term studies are yet to be conducted, Dr Newby recommends that doctors use CT scans to diagnose patients with chest pain, in light of how little risk is associated with them and how great a potential they have to detect heart problems in patients sooner than standard testing.