Detecting Heart Failure

April 22, 2009 2:46:49 PM PDT
February is American Heart Month. More than five million Americans are living with heart failure. Now there's a way to detect one of the leading causes of the condition without going inside the heart. It's a less-invasive approach that could save lives.With a family history of heart failure, 56-year-old Shellie Green worries about her future.

"You begin to think about a lot of things like, 'What's going on with me? Am I going to be all right,' you know?" Green told Ivanhoe.

Green is getting a nuclear stress test designed to find blockages. Now researchers discovered the same test can also determine if Green has one of the two types of heart failure.

"It is to me very exciting because it will open many doors," Dineshkumar Patel, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Ga., told Ivanhoe.

More than 50 percent of people with heart failure have the diastolic type. That's when the left side of the heart doesn't pump enough blood, leading to a buildup of blood in the lungs.

"The heart can pump the blood to all different organs as much as it receives," Dr. Patel explained. "If heart cannot receive enough blood, it will not pump as much as it would like to."

Before the discovery, diagnosis was difficult. Doctors used echocardiograms or had to thread a catheter into the heart -- too invasive for some patients.

In the less-invasive test doctors inject radioactive dye into Green's vein, allowing them to take pictures of her heart -- 16 snap shots of each beat. In a study, researchers say the stress test correctly diagnosed patients 94 percent of the time.

Green's heart is tested at rest and under stress. The news is good: no blockages and no heart failure. It's a new tool for doctors to keep hearts healthy and patients happy.

"I just want to just be alright," Green said.

Dr. Patel says you can be in great physical shape but still have diastolic heart dysfunction. The new test allows doctors to prevent heart failure before patients start complaining of chest pain and feeling out of breath.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Amy Connell, Media Relations Specialist
Medical College of Georgia
aconnell@mail.mcg.edu

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