Heart Scan May Help Predict Death

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Updated: 7/23 5:19 pm

Oct. 6, 2008 -- A heart scan may help predict the odds of dying over the next 15 years in people with suspected coronary artery disease, according to a new study.

But that may not be true for everyone else, notes an editorial published with the study in the Oct. 14 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Some 2,500 U.S. adults with symptoms of suspected coronary artery disease -- the top cause of death for U.S. men and women -- took part in the study.

Each patient got a computed tomography (CT) heart scan. The CT scan takes pictures of the heart from outside the body.

Doctors check those pictures to see if the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, are narrowed or blocked; if they are, that means a heart attack is more likely.

The patients were 59 years old, on average, when they got their CT heart scans. Over the next 15 years, 86 patients died of any cause.

Death was most common in patients with more severe coronary artery disease as shown on their CT heart scan. That was true regardless of the patients' age, gender, and other risk factors.

In short, the CT heart scan helped predict death, note the researchers, who included Matthew Ostrom, MD, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif.

But the study has some limits.

For instance, newer CT heart scanners have been developed since the study started. In addition, the study doesn't show what treatments the patients got after their heart scans, or their exact cause of death. And CT heart scans can't predict when patients will die.

Also, "the results do not justify" the use of CT heart scans for people without symptoms of heart disease, writes editorialist Stephen Achenbach, MD, FACC, FESC, of the cardiology department at Germany's University of Erlangen.

In the journal, researcher Matthew Budhoff, MD, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, discloses that he is on the speaker's bureau for General Electric, which made the CT scanner used in the study.

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