High-tech scan for blocked arteries matches conventional tests in finding root of symptoms

Electron beam computed tomography gives reliable, immediate diagnosis without stress test

Ann Arbor, MI - Patients experiencing chest pain and other symptoms may be able to find out equally well whether blocked arteries are the cause by lying still for a quick heart scan or by running on a treadmill for a stress test, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Michigan.

The analysis of electron beam computed tomography, or EBCT, shows the new test can diagnose blocked arteries just as reliably as stress tests in patients with symptoms of coronary artery disease. The paper, which compared data from nine studies of EBCT using a process called meta-analysis, is published in the March 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

EBCT, which takes ultrafast pictures that reveal the presence of blockages by "seeing" the calcium that concentrates in them, is gaining in popularity. The test is seen as faster, more consistent and easier to perform than stress tests. But the equipment usually used to do the scan is expensive, and some studies have called the test's accuracy into question. The U-M study's results, based on research involving 1,662 patients, found the accuracy is indeed good.

That confirmation may help hospitals and imaging centers decide whether or not to invest in EBCT machines in order to diagnose obstructed coronary arteries in patients who, for example, come to the emergency room or a checkup with chest pain, shortness of breath or arm pain but. Others, such as the U-M Health System, are exploring a new way to perform EBCT-like scans using existing scanners. The study may also help insurers decide whether to pay for the scans.

The study did not address the use of EBCT to screen the arteries of patients without symptoms, an increasingly common use which patients often pay for themselves. Nor did it compare the cost of the scanning equipment or an EBCT scan with the cost of various kinds of stress

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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