Patients will soon be offered ultra-accurate scans that can signal blood clots, allowing doctors to take steps to prevent heart attacks.
The simple procedure involves injecting a harmless dye into the bloodstream that relieves microscopic tears in arteries, which are often the start of a life-threatening blood clot.
Previously, doctors used an angiogram to look for clots — an invasive procedure that involves inserting a thin tube through an incision in the groin to reach the blood vessels around the heart.
But the test is not without risk, and in rare cases can cause a heart attack or stroke itself.
The new technique poses no such risks, as the dye is injected into the arm.
The procedure involves injecting a harmless dye into the bloodstream that relieves microscopic tears in arteries that are often the start of a life-threatening clot
Your amazing body
They may be small, but babies have nearly 100 more bones than adults.
A newborn baby has about 300 parts of its skeleton, compared to 206 in an adult. Much of this is the tough, flexible cartilage — the skeleton’s shock absorber — that solidifies into bones.
As children grow, the ‘extra’ bones fuse to form larger ones, reducing the total number by the time they reach adulthood.
Scientists have also found that it is more accurate than an angiogram because it can identify tiny clots that are just beginning to form.
The results of a landmark study, presented last week at the European Society of Cardiology, showed that the scan identified 80 percent of deadly blood clots, while angiograms tend to identify about 60 percent.
Doctors say the tool will likely be available on the NHS within a few years, and could benefit the nearly eight million people in the UK living with heart disease.
Every year, more than 100,000 Britons require hospital treatment after a heart attack. Although survival rates have improved dramatically in recent decades, they still lead to as many as 450 deaths per day.
The most common cause of a heart attack, in which blood flow to the organ is suddenly cut off, is coronary artery disease.
A key factor in the progression of heart disease is atherosclerosis, where inflamed areas called plaques develop in the arteries. These plaques can rupture, causing the formation of a blood clot that can break loose and block the arteries that supply the heart, leading to a heart attack.
The first sign of a heart attack is usually chest pain and shortness of breath. Sufferers often undergo an EKG to monitor the electrical activity of the heart. But while the test can determine that a heart attack has happened, it cannot identify the cause.
It can be caused by an infection, but it can also be coronary artery disease, meaning patients are prone to another attack. In these cases, doctors look for clots using an angiogram.
If the clot is large and poses an obvious risk of further heart attacks, doctors may place a stent in the blood vessel to keep it open. Less risky clots can be treated with anticoagulants.
Scientists have also found that the scan is more accurate than an angiogram because it can identify tiny clots that are just beginning to form (image of a blood clot, above)
The farmers who can light fire
If you’re concerned about bad breath, don’t think about the man whose farmers posed a serious danger to life and property.
In the early 1900s, Scottish physician James McNaught encountered a patient who set fire to matches while burping.
According to the story, told by historian Thomas Morris, the man claimed to have quit smoking due to concerns about setting his house on fire.
The doctor put a tube down the patient’s throat to find an obstruction in the gut that had caused the contents of his stomach to ferment.
A by-product of the fermentation process turned out to be a highly flammable gas, which was responsible for igniting the fires.
In the new one-hour test, a dye is injected into the arm. The patient then undergoes a detailed scan to look for bright spots that could indicate fractures.
A study from the University of Edinburgh of 94 patients, half of whom had recently had a heart attack, showed that the scan was very effective at detecting blood clots. In more than one in ten patients, the test picked up clots outside the heart area, such as in the lungs.
dr. Evangelos Tzolos, a cardiology specialist at the University of Edinburgh, describes the precision of the test as impressive.
He says, “Seeing the tiniest cracks gives us confidence that we can treat some patients with blood thinners, rather than something more intensive.” dr. Tzolos and his team are recruiting patients for a trial to see if the test can prevent strokes in those who have already had one.
Ronald Klein, 66, a retired postal worker, is one patient who will benefit from the new test. Last November he had a heart attack and a stent was placed. The following month, scientists in Edinburgh invited him to participate in the trial of the new test, funded by the British Heart Foundation, to check for any further clots.
He says, “They put the dye in my arm and then I went under the scan. It was all done in an hour.’
The dye picked up a small clot that formed in one of the arteries leading to Ronald’s heart, which the doctors hadn’t seen originally. There was a danger that the clot could break loose at any time and possibly trigger another attack.
Ronald says: ‘Without the scan I’m not sure if they would have known to look there. The doctors immediately gave me medicine to break the blockage.’