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Dec 15, 2014

New Plaque Test Helps Identify High-Risk Heart Patients

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) helps identify heart disease patients at increased risk for heart attack and stroke, finds study.

A novel test called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) helps identify heart disease patients at increased risk for heart attack and stroke, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Conducted in the Netherlands, this study evaluated the NIRS procedure—a new catheter-based technique that provides detailed information about plaque build-up on artery walls. Plaque is made of substances like fat and cholesterol, which harden and narrow the arteries. The more plaque build-up in the arteries, the less blood can flow through the body and the greater the risk for serious health problems, like heart attack and stroke. 

A total of 203 patients participated in the study, each of which had a history of chest pain or heart attack and required testing to evaluate their blood vessels. Using the latest NIRS imaging, researchers were able to collect detailed information about the build-up of plaque and then follow patients for a year for certain outcomes. And after just one year, investigators found that patients with poor imaging results had four times greater risk of serious heart events, like heart attack and stroke. 

As authors point out, theirs is the first study to assess the value of NIRS imaging in patients with heart disease and the study was relatively small, conducted at a single hospital in the Netherlands. However, initial results suggest that this new testing could provide useful information to identify heart patients at significantly increased risk for complications. With larger studies, researchers hope to further evaluate NIRS imaging to better identify high-risk patients and provide treatments that could prevent life-threatening complications.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atherosclerosis?
  • Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries caused by the build-up of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious health problems, such as heart attackstroke and even death.
  • How is atherosclerosis treated?
  • Treatment for atherosclerosis may include lifestyle changes, medication and/or medical procedures, depending on the severity of plaque build-up in the arteries. Lifestyle changes like eating healthy, staying activequitting smoking and reducing stress can help reduce risk of complications from atherosclerosis. Certain medications like cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering drugs may also be prescribed to slow the progress of plaque build-up. If atherosclerosis is severe, certain procedures may also be recommended to open blocked or narrowed arteries.

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