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Heart Disease Health Center

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Computer Imaging Better Than Treadmill Test at Identifying Those at Risk for Heart Attack

WebMD Health News

Oct. 4, 1999 (Minneapolis) -- In one of the largest and longest studies of its kind, French researchers have found that computerized X-ray scans are much better than the traditional exercise treadmill test at predicting who is risk for having a heart attack over the next six years. The results are published in the October 5 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Doctors try to determine which of their patients is at high risk and which is at low risk for having a major cardiac event so they can figure out who would benefit from further, invasive testing, according to Gérald Vanzetto, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the University Hospital in Grenoble, France.

Vanzetto and his research team studied 1,137 patients (857 were men, average age 56 years) referred for chest pain or suspected silent heart disease. Patients performed an exercise treadmill test on an ergometer bicycle and received a SPECT scan, which produces computer images that identify areas of the heart with decreased blood flow due to blockages in the arteries.

The researchers found that those patients with a previous history of a heart attack, or those with more than one risk factor for heart disease (smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure), all had a higher risk of suffering a major cardiac event during the next six years. An abnormal SPECT scan accurately predicted the occurrence of a heart attack over this period, whereas an exercise stress test was not able to identify those patients who were likely to have a heart attack, according to the authors.

Patients with a normal SPECT scan can feel assured that they are unlikely to suffer a heart attack over at least the following six years. "Our results suggest that ... patients with normal scans do not require further explorations for the 6 years following initial examination," write the authors.

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