Imagine having a simple diagnostic test that could assess your risk of a heart attack in the future. That technology does not exist at the moment, but the situation may change soon.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of individuals in the United States experience the tragedy of heart attacks. These cardiovascular events, usually secondary to the coronary artery disease, are extremely common. Estimates suggest that heart attack strokes someone in the U.S. every 40 seconds.
Physicians currently do not have sufficient ways of assessing the relative risk of heart attacks in their patients.
However, a team of scientists belonging to the University of Oxford, England collaborated with a Cleveland Clinic team in Ohio to change the situation. They developed a non-invasive test that utilizes certain equipment to predict the risk of heart attack.
What’s better is that most of the equipment this test uses is already in place at various healthcare facilities across the country.
The research , published in The Lancet, moved the doctors a step closer to getting the “Holy Grail” of detecting a heart attack.
New Potential Applications for CT Scanning
Can we really predict that a person is going to suffer from a heart attack tomorrow afternoon as they shovel snow? The researchers were curious to find out the answers.
This has always been the “Holy Grail” as the researchers have struggled to identify some markers to look at the coronaries in a non-invasive method.
In the current study, scientists found that the dangerous plaques that keep accumulating and inflame to cause heart attacks may be useful. These plaques send off a chemical signal which can alert the physicians to a suspected heart attack. This will consequently give them time to take preventive steps and reduce the risk.
This detection system, also referred to as the Fat Attenuation Index (FAI), uses the standard computed tomography (CT) scan technology. Using the CT scan, it can help measure the plaque and detect any risks.
In all, the researchers studied about 4,000 patients in the United States and Germany for up to a decade after receiving their CT tests.
This newly detected marker has strong associations with the downstream fatalities related to heart attacks or potentially fatal heart attacks. The researchers expressed an element of surprise at the derived values of the German cohort which were almost similar to the American cohort.
The numbers were fairly consistent despite using different scanners, different protocols, different time frames, and different countries.
This test provides an easy-to-understand score on the risk of a patient of having a heart attack.
People with an abnormal FAI number were up to nine times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack in the following five years.
Ticking Time Bombs
Predictive technology identifying the likelihood of a patient to experience a heart attack may yield dividends whether they would eventually experience an attack or not.
An abnormal FAI score may alert the patients and the doctors for a need of an intervention. The intervention may come in the form of improving lifestyle or prescribing statin medications.
What’s more, an FAI score may communicate the need of urgency. It can encourage any changes that may never take place otherwise.
Even the patients who do experience a heart attack eventually, an early warning is useful. It will give both the patient and the doctor an idea about the risk and ways to deal with the damage done.
Hopefully, those who ultimately experience a heart attack can survive it, because cardiologists are good at fixing problems.
As per the scientists, the FAI system can also help in any drug trials to the future.
There are certain drugs already in the market that can help decrease the inflammation. These drugs are more effective than the statins in the prevention of heart attacks.
But can FAI markers serve as an endpoint to the drug trials?
As the process of plaque detection is more automatized, scientists may be able to develop new therapies using these markers.
While the FAI technology is rather an exciting new frontier for doctors, it is important to acknowledge that it is not preventive. Even if it helps spur preventive steps, this cannot be a way to prevent heart attacks.
The preventive therapy for heart attacks remains the same as many of you already know. Eat healthily, visit your doctor, and get plenty of exercises.
Before the use of invasive methods, like statins, most of the doctors encouraged their patients for lifestyle modifications.
That said, an abnormal FAI score may just be the kick in the pants that all the patients need to start making all these significant changes.
Scientists say that because FAI uses already-existing CT scanners and are highly effective for different populations, the integration of this technology in doctor’s offices may occur very soon.
To that end, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and Oxford are working just to make this analysis simpler.
People do not want to spend any more time than they have just to analyze a scan. So, they may wish to upload it to a cloud scanner where a company or an analyzer can review the data and give the number.
The biggest thing to learn from this study is the importance of teamwork and collaboration, say the researchers. This is especially true when you are trying to make meaningful medical breakthroughs.
The head researcher says that he is extremely proud of the interpersonal relationships and the successful collaborations. The mission of this study was to discover the best product out there, and collaboration allowed them to see this through.