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12th November 2013

Can we predict a heart attack?

A new imaging technique could find people at highest risk of a heart attack. There is currently no accurate way to find those people. A major breakthrough, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), could change that.



When fatty deposits, known as plaques, build up in arteries and rupture, it can cause a heart attack. Each year there are 32 million heart attacks in the world, of which 12.5 million are fatal. A new test, developed at the University of Edinburgh and led by BHF Clinical Lecturer Dr Marc Dweck, detects the fatty plaques on the brink of rupture.

Fatty plaques at risk of rupture 'lit up' in some patients while they had a PET-CT scan during a clinical trial. Over 90% of people scanned, who had had a heart attack recently, had a lit-up area in a blood vessel, corresponding exactly to the location of the plaque that caused their heart attack.

Around 40% of patients with angina also had a plaque that lit up yellow, as well as high-risk features that suggested a heart attack may be imminent, and aggressive treatment would be required.

Dr. Peter Weissberg, Medical Director: “Being able to identify dangerous fatty plaques likely to cause a heart attack is something that conventional heart tests can’t do. This research suggests that PET-CT scanning may provide an answer – identifying ‘ticking time bomb’ patients at risk of a heart attack.

“Nearly 20 years of BHF-funded research has led us to this point. We now need to confirm these findings, and then understand how best to use new tests like this in the clinic to benefit heart patients.”

This breakthrough research is published in The Lancet.


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