Medical Imaging That Helps Assess Heart Health


Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world. Contributing factors include a poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetics. Most doctors tell patients that the way to better cardiac health is through medically proven methods of eating better, regular exercise and taking precautions if your family has a history of heart disease.

To detect and combat heart disease, scientists have developed a variety of medical technologies. Medical imaging is a common method for doctors to determine the probability of a patient developing a heart condition. Below is a look at the medical imaging modalities physicians use to assess cardiac health.

CT and CAT Scans for Calcium Scoring

One frequently used medical imaging exam for determining the condition of the heart is through a CT or CAT scan. CT scans use X-rays and computer equipment to produce cross-sectional images of the body, including several types of tissues such as muscles. At Doctors Imaging, we calibrate CT equipment to use the lowest amounts of radiation required for each exam.

A Calcium Scoring screening uses produces imaging of the coronary arteries to determine if they are blocked or narrowed by the buildup of plaque – an indicator for atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (CAD). The information obtained can help evaluate whether you are at increased risk for heart attack.

A CT scan for coronary calcium is a non-invasive way of obtaining information about the presence, location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries—the vessels that supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle.

Because calcium is a marker of CAD, the amount of calcium detected on a cardiac CT scan is a helpful prognostic tool. The findings on cardiac CT are expressed as a calcium score. Another name for this test is coronary artery calcium scoring.

A positive test means that CAD is present, regardless of whether or not you are experiencing any symptoms. The amount of calcification—expressed as the calcium score—may help to predict the likelihood of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the coming years and helps your doctor decide whether you need preventive medicine or adopt diet and exercise changes to lower your risks. The extent of CAD is graded according to your calcium score:

Calcium Score Presence of CAD
0 No evidence of CAD
1-10 Minimal evidence of CAD
11-100 Mild evidence of CAD
101-400 Moderate evidence of CAD
Over 400 Extensive evidence of CAD

Carotid Ultrasounds Can Detect Vascular Problems

If your doctor is concerned about the possibility of a vascular problem leading to heart disease, he or she may order a carotid ultrasound exam. The body has two carotid arteries and if either one becomes compromised, you could go into cardiac arrest or stroke. Ifyou’re worried about your cardiac condition, an ultrasound exam is a safe and effective form of medical imaging. Ultrasound exams simply use sound waves and computer technology to create their images. This allows patients and doctors to see the flow of blood throughout the body in real-time, making it easier to determine the causes of problems and choose treatments.

MRIs Examine Coronary Pathways

MRIs provide another method that doctors sometimes use to test the heart and blood flow through the coronary pathways. MRIs use strong magnetic and radio waves to create images of the internal body.

All these tests are important for gauging your cardiac health. All patients and their symptoms are different. Your doctor will recommend the exam that is right for your needs.

Learn More About Medical Imaging

CT Scan for Calcium Scoring by RadiologyInfo.org

What is the difference between a CT and a PET-CT scan?


CT and PET-CT scans are very common procedures that doctors administer every day to help localize their examination and to provide the most thorough diagnosis. Both procedures contain varying, minimal risks but can provide huge benefits for patients that need a more in-depth examination and specialized treatment.

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan or a Computed Tomography scan is a medical procedure that uses x-ray radiation and fascinating computer technology to create cross-sectional images of the body’s organs and tissues. CT scans can also be called CAT or Computed Axial Tomography. CT scans take helical images of the examined part of the body which produces better 3-dimensional imaging. The better the image, the better the diagnosis your doctor can make. CT scans are particularly useful in the examination of tissues, cancer staging, and determining vascular disease.

What is a PET-CT scan?

A PET-CT scan or Positron Emission Tomography is a medical procedure similar to a CT scan but PET-CT scans are commonly used in determining the difference between healthy and diseased tissue. Using nuclear medicine these exams allow particular focus on oncological symptoms in the brain and heart as well as any vascular or tissue abnormalities.

What are the procedures like?

The biggest difference between a CT and a PET-CT scan is the machinations of the procedure. There are varying states of discomfort between both procedures, but both are relatively painless and easy to complete for any patient.

A CT machine looks like a large tire with the patient placed inside the “hole.” The patient is placed on the examination table and will be administered contrast material through the mouth or intravenously. The feet will be the first to enter into the machine and the body will be slowly moved into the chamber. The procedure lasts approximately 10-30 minutes. Patients typically report that they hear a slight whirring sound which is the machine rotating around them gathering imaging. The doctor will able to speak to you and you will be able to respond.

A PET-CT scan is similar to a CT scan in some ways but the biggest difference between the two is the instructions prior to the exam. Most doctors and facilities will request that a patient not eat at least 4 hours prior to the scan and to drink lots of water. The exam also lasts slightly longer at about 30-45 minutes. Contrast material is commonly used as well and will either be  administered through an IV or by inhalation. If the PET-CT scan is being administered because of possible heart disease, the patient will often be asked to perform a stress test. The body will be examined at rest and during exercise in efforts to determine any cardiovascular problems. You may also hear a buzzing or clicking sound during this procedure.

Which procedure is more painful?

Both procedures have a minimal amount of pain and discomfort. The most common complaint is concerning the IV injection site or a claustrophobic feeling. But the contrast material is necessary for properly determining the condition of tissues and veins as well as highlighting possible cancerous cells. Furthermore, the body moves through the machine. It only covers the area that will be examined — it does not encapsulate the entire body.

Are there any risks?

Doctors and imaging facilities have been able to minimize the risks surrounding these procedures to practically nothing. Both a CT and PET-CT scan use small amounts of radiation to image the examined area. If you are pregnant or could possibly be pregnant, you should let your doctor know. There is no medical evidence that the amount of radiation is dangerous for an unborn child. But if there is another safer method to examine, your doctor can help you understand your options. Also if you have any implanted devices, artificial body parts or features such as hearing aids or dentures, talk to your doctor about what needs to removed for the procedure.

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