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Fall 2005

Fast CT Scan Helps Detect Heart Disease

Early detection of heart disease can save lives. "When symptoms of heart disease occur, significant blockage of the coronary artery already exists," notes Jonathan Goldin, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of cardiothoracic radiology. New noninvasive imaging technologies are allowing physicians to more easily and accurately obtain images of the heart that can reveal both early disease and critical artery narrowing or blockages.

UCLA recently became the first medical center in the western United States to offer 64-slice computed tomography (CT) scanning to aid in the early diagnosis of coronary artery disease. The scanner uses 64 detectors to create a detailed, three-dimensional view of the heart and its arteries. It is able to capture data from the 64 detectors in one-third of a second; the entire scan is completed in just 10 seconds. "The challenge in cardiac imaging is to acquire images of the coronary arteries when they're not blurred by movement," Dr. Goldin notes. "The 64-slice CT, by virtue of its speed of acquisition and high resolution, allows you to reconstruct what are effectively frozen images of the heart and provide sharper details of the coronary arteries."

The arsenal of noninvasive tech niques also includes SPECT, PET and stress echocardiograms, all of which enable physicians to see changes in the patient's heart anatomy and function without a more invasive procedure.

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)- one of the most commonly used noninvasive cardiac diagnostic procedures - can detect deficiencies in blood flow. Using a radioactive tracer, the flow of blood is tracked, and a computer constructs a series of images showing successive "slices" of the heart.

"SPECT is quite accurate for detecting blockages or narrowing of the coronary arteries but may miss early stages of coronary artery disease," says Heinrich Schelbert, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular and medical pharmacology. "At UCLA, we also use positron emission tomography (PET), which provides similar resting-versus-stressed blood flow imaging, but is more accurate than SPECT and can detect milder forms of disease as well as a predisposition to develop coronary artery disease." 

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