A mere 15 seconds could save your life — if you get the right heart scan done in the emergency room, that is. According to a new study, the 15-second heart scan known as a “multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) allows doctors to see if there is plaque buildup in your coronary arteries and if they have become narrower and harder.
The test essentially allows doctors to assess which patients experiencing chest pain have heart problems and which do not. This can allow doctors to prioritize patients better, as some may need immediate attention (suffering from a heart attack, for example) and those that can receive delayed treatment (suffering from an anxiety attack).
This knowledge can lead to a better assessment of your situation, and therefore could mean the difference between life and death, as health care providers will know what kind of treatment you’ll need in what type of time frame.
In the study, which was published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers looked at 103 individuals who had chest pain and went through routine tests along with the MDCT scan. Before I describe the study, I want to underscore the importance of the MDCT scan: It’s highly effective because it allows doctors to see where plaque has built up in the arteries, thus allowing them to determine the severity of a patient’s condition in a very short period of time.
It’s crucial to assess plaque buildup, as it’s an indicator of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). ASC is basically a blanket term that covers chest pain that is tied to angina and heart attack.
Back to the study: Among the 103 patients, 14 of them were diagnosed with having ACS when they were hospitalized after an episode and they all had “significant plaque levels” when assessed by the MDCT scan. Along with this, 41 of the patients who didn’t have significant plaque buildup, as found by the scan, were not hospitalized for an ACS diagnosis at the time of their episodes or for the following five months after the initial scan was performed. The remaining 73 patients did not have narrowed or clogged arteries and they did not have ACS.
According to the study’s head researcher, Udo Hoffmann, “ACS is rare without plaque, so MDCT results may quickly identify a group of patients that can safely be discharged. It would be a big relief for patients to be quickly told that they don’t have anything wrong with their hearts and they can go home.”
“This can also save lives by easing the burden of emergency rooms and physicians thereby giving them more time to focus on patients who really have heart problems,” he added.
For most people, it’s clear that they are experiencing a heart attack when they are admitted to the ER, but for six million people in the U.S. alone, it’s not always clear what the problem is. The 15-second MDCT scan, thanks to its lightening-fast assessment, could mean the difference between life and death for many patients.
Today only a “tiny minority” of emergency rooms have this technology — let’s hope that the medical community steps up the pace and the scan becomes commonplace in all hospitals across the country soon.