Dimensions of the Heart
New techniques give doctors insight into possible problems.
Dr. Barry Katzen’s Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute in Miami was one of the first to use new 64-slice CT scans.
The 64-slice CT scanner is quickly becoming the gold standard for diagnosing heart abnormalities. The machine gives doctors a 3-D view of a patient’s chest cavity, capturing clear multiple images of the beating heart.
This latest technology is not yet widely prescribed because insurance typically doesn’t cover the procedure, which can cost more than $1,000 per scan. It also exposes patients to more radiation than other methods of diagnosing the heart, so it’s recommended only for patients who are at risk for disease.
But the device is living up to its billing, says Dr. Barry Katzen, founder and medical director at Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute in Miami, one of the first hospitals nationwide to use the new technology.
“We’ve finally been able to view some of the small vessels in the heart,” says Katzen, who in 2006 became the first American to receive a prestigious Gold Medal award from the Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe. “We can really develop very high-quality pictures of the coronary arteries ... without having to do an invasive procedure such as catheterization.”
During cardiac catheterization, a type of angiogram, doctors insert a tiny tube into a blood vessel in the groin or the arm and thread it into the heart’s arteries to look for blockages. Patients are sedated during the procedure, which takes about an hour, and must stay hospitalized for up to four hours afterward. Angiograms are more expensive, too — about $3,500.
A CT scan, on the other hand, takes about 15 minutes and requires no recovery time.
The industry is already working on a 128-slice CT scanner, but doctors aren’t sure its added features will make as much of a difference as those introduced with the latest device.
Other recent advances in heart health, Katzen says, include:
› Calcium score tests — The X-ray procedure takes 30 seconds or less and is used in patients who aren’t known to have vascular disease but have high cholesterol. Calcium clogs the arteries and can lead to blood clots and heart attacks.
› Ultrasound tests — These are used to detect the level of plaque forming or any defects such as a hole in the heart. The procedure is non-invasive and performed in about 40 minutes.
› Cholesterol treatments — The American Heart Association has lowered the acceptable levels of bad cholesterol, LDL. Patients used to be considered high risk with a count of at least 100, but now it’s 70. However, there’s good news, Katzen says: The introduction of statin drugs such as Lipitor have helped decrease heart attack rates significantly.
Heart Disease Statistics
› Cardiovascular disease is the top killer in the U.S.
› It caused 37.3% of all deaths in the U.S., or 910,614. The next-largest cause of death was cancer, with 554,643 deaths.*
› It’s cited as a contributing factor in 58% of deaths.*
› About 71.3 million American adults have some type of cardiovascular disease.*
› Of those, 27.4 million are age 65 or older.
› It costs the U.S. $403.1 billion a year.
*2003 figures, the most recent available
Source: American Heart Association 2006 update