Detecting heart failure

February 6, 2009 3:53:27 PM PST
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.

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?" she said.

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

"It is to me very exciting because it will open many doors," said Dineshkumar Patel, MD Cardiology Fellow at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

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. If heart cannot receive enough blood, it will not pump as much as it would like to," Patel said.

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 Shellie'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.

Shellie's heart is tested at rest and under stress. The news is good -- no blockages and no heart failure.

A new tool for doctors to keep hearts healthy and patients happy.

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.


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