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    Very Early Heart Disease May Be Detected With New Technique

    By Elizabeth Tracey , MS
    WebMD Health News

    June 12, 2000 -- A technique that's been used to look at blood flow in the heart since the mid-1980s is now being used in a new way that may help pinpoint very early heart disease, says a paper in the current issue of the journal Circulation, published by the American Heart Association.

    The technique is called phase contrast magnetic resonance imaging (PC-MR), and it was used to look at the main blood vessel in the heart. "With this approach, we are able to assess the blood supply to the heart muscle and assess how well the blood vessels of the heart function," says Juerg Schwitter, MD, in a press release. Schwitter is assistant professor of cardiology at University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, and the study's lead researcher.

    "[The new test] eliminates the need for two tests, which would result in time savings, although the technique itself may be more expensive," says William Parmley, MD, also one of the study's authors. Parmley is professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

    The paper reports results of using PC-MR in 16 healthy volunteers with no heart disease and in nine heart transplant recipients. The technique was compared with another imaging technique, PET scanning, to assess its accuracy. Results indicate that the two techniques compare favorably, but PC-MR is able to provide additional information about actual heart function.

    "I think this technique will prove to be a valuable research tool in developing new medications to prevent the development of coronary artery [heart] disease," Schwitter says.

    William Herzog, MD, associate professor of cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, reviewed the paper for WebMD. "While very interesting from a research standpoint, there just isn't any justification for using such a technique in large populations, so its application is quite limited," he says.

    Herzog believes the technique might one day provide early clues to heart disease, but says, "there remains no substitute for a good history and physical exam."

    Vital Information:

    • An imaging technique called phase contrast magnetic resonance imaging (PC-MR) may be an effective way to detect very early heart disease.
    • In a recent study, PC-MR was able to provide more information about heart function when compared to another imaging technique called PET scanning.
    • One expert says the new technique is interesting for research projects, but may not be beneficial to the general population.

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