Cardiologists can better predict your chance of heart attack

By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: November 12th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Cardiologists don’t have crystal balls in their examination rooms. But new technologies developed in the past 18 months just might help them see into the future.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and each year 525,000 Americans suffer a heart attack for the first time. But these new tests should help cardiologists determine just who is most at risk of a heart attack.

In one new technology, a simple blood test allows cardiologists to check for a trait, or biomarker, known to be associated with heart attack patients. People who had recently suffered heart attacks were found to have abnormally large or oddly shaped circulating endothelial cells, or CECs.

By testing blood for this unusual cell characteristic, physicians can identify patients who appear primed to suffer an imminent heart attack.

More new tests involve imaging technology that allows heart doctors to see the underlying causes of heart attacks more clearly. A technique called multidetector computed tomography, and another called positron emission tomography, highlighted plaque in the arteries and determined how much inflammation was occurring.

In lab animals, the tests were found to show more when used together — and could help doctors pinpoint which patients might be most at risk of heart attack.

Other new technologies show promise, too: new scans that show three-dimensional images of a heart, and another that allows doctors to scan the brain and heart simultaneously — a major leap forward in the treatment of strokes.

All of these tests add up to more information, and more time to use it. Earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment and, of course, better outcomes for patients.

Cardiologists still aren’t fortune tellers. But they are a few steps closer to predicting their patients’ heart health.