CT scans may be lifesaving, according to a study linking 3-D heart imaging to a more accurate diagnosis of heart disease.
Recently presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session and published in the Lancet, this study sought to determine whether heart CT scans improve diagnosis and outcomes of patients with heart disease. More than 4,100 patients with chest pain were included in the study, half of whom underwent a CT scan plus standard care to determine the cause of their symptoms. The other half received standard care only, which included a review of family history and physical exam.
Many times, reviewing factors like age, blood pressure, cholesterol and family history are enough to assess a patient’s risk for heart disease. While CT scans provide more detailed information about the heart’s function, doctors don’t want to put patients through unnecessary testing, especially if it’s unlikely that they have any heart problems.
After analyzing study data, researchers found that CT scans were much more accurate in diagnosing heart disease than standard care alone. After undergoing standard assessments, one-quarter of patients receiving CT scans were given a different diagnosis, compared to just 1% in patients who received standard care. These changes in diagnosis altered the course of treatment for many patients. Researchers also found that after just 20 months of follow-up, fewer patients receiving CT scans suffered heart attacks than those receiving standard care, although this difference was not statistically significant.
Based on these findings, researchers believe that CT scans are useful in diagnosing patients experiencing chest pain from heart disease. Not only can CT scans help guide which test to do next and what treatment options may be available for patients with heart disease, this information could improve outcomes by preventing heart attacks—a leading cause of death in the United States. Investigators also add that in their study, CT scans appeared to decrease diagnosis of heart disease. It’s likely that doctors overdiagnose chest pain due to heart disease for fear of undertreatment. CT scans may be key to avoiding incorrect diagnoses.