New Heart Scan Procedure Provides Unprecedented Imagery

November 29, 2005 -- 5:09 p.m. CST

JONESBORO - With heart disease the number one killer of women, and the sobering fact that 1 out of 2 women will die from it, K8's Diana Davis recently decided to undergo a 'heart scan'—with a high tech instrument known as a "64-slice CT scanner."

Much like the slices in a loaf of bread, it 'slices', or takes pictures of the body in segments, revealing images of the heart like we've never seen before.

Diana arrived at the St. Benards Imaging Center a little nervous, not so much about the test itself, but what it may find. "During my recent pregnancy and even afterwards, my blood pressure has been elevated. I have a family history of high blood pressure on my father's side. He died at 45 with cancer when I was just a child of 5", Diana relates.

St. Benards Nurse Francis Perkins explains the process Diana undergoes, "a type of iodine is injected in your bloodstream rapidly, giving the patient a warming sensation from head to toe. The iodine acts as a 'contrasting agent' to help highlight the heart's blood vessels. The patient's kidneys are also tested to insure proper filtering of the dye, and the heart rate is monitored.  The slower the patient's heart rate, the better pictures the CT scanner can make.

"Can you find a heart attack before it happens?" asks Diana. St. Benards radiologist, Dr. Michael Smith assures her, "Well, we can find the conditions that could predispose you to a heart attack.  Narrowing or alot of plaque [information] to help you decide what your risk is."

The CT scanner, a highly specialized X-ray machine, uses radiation to detect the iodine dye injected in the patient's circulatory system.  It is the equivalent of about 8 mammograms. Dr. Smith explains, "the problem that we have is that the heartbeat and visuals can vary from minute to minute. With the 64-slice CT scanner, we can scan 4 times as fast."

Diana is guided into the scanner while a registered technologist, Melissa Haggard, monitors her heart rate. She asks Diana to raise her arms so the dye can go in faster while the X-ray tube circles for 5 to 8 seconds. Each complete loop creates a spiral slice of the heart. Then, the scanner's computer reconstructs the spiral slices.

"The scanner will process it altogether and then it will look through the bones, take the bones away, and leave only the heart itself", Dr. Smith explains. Sophisticated computer programs sort the data collected from the heart scan and allow doctors the chance to actually straighten each vessel out and look insude...even travel down them looking for blockages.

Dr. Smith continues, "I never thought we'd be able to do this. When I started scanning, we were using one-slice scanners and it took several seconds to produce one image. Now, we can produce hundreds of images just within a minute."

St. Benards received just the 48th CT scanner in the world at a pricetag of roughly $2 million.  But, according to Diana, "When you get the news I did, it's priceless!"

The CT heart scan procedure does not replace the cardiac catherization procedure, still considered the 'gold standard' in searching for circulatory blockages. However, the CT scan is less invasive and you don't have any recovery time. You just walk away.

Also, health insurance does not pay for this type of heart scan at this time. It must be paid for up front, but for many, it is well worth the expense.