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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Scan may predict heart trouble
Heart monitor
Technique could help to treat heart patients
Latest scanning technology can pinpoint weaknesses in the blood vessels of people who have survived heart attacks.

It is hoped that the technique will eventually help doctors to treat weak spots before they pose a serious threat of further heart attacks.

The technique, called intravascular ultrasound, enables doctors to generate high-resolution 3-D images of the inside of the blood vessels.

A team from Lyon in France used it to investigate the blood vessels of people who had suffered a heart attack within the previous month.

Fatty deposits

They found that eight out 10 of the patients had suffered further potentially dangerous damage to their blood vessels on top of that which caused their heart attack in the first place.

Heart attacks are often triggered by the rupture of fatty deposits called plaques which collect in the lining of blood vessels.

This causes tearing of the blood vessel wall, and the formation of potentially dangerous clots, which can obstruct bloodflow to the heart, leading to a heart attack.

The French team examined the three major blood vessels that provide the heart with its own blood supply.

They found that in the majority of cases the patients' blood vessels showed signs of plaque rupture that were not related to the damage which triggered their heart attack.

The researchers generated 3-D images of 72 arteries in 24 patients who had been referred for angioplasty - a surgical technique designed to unclog blocked arteries by expanding them with a miniature inflatable balloon.

Unexpected results

They found that 19 of the patients had at least one plaque rupture in addition to that which caused the original problem.

Seventeen had ruptured plaques in two of the three coronary arteries, and three had ruptures in all three.

Researcher Dr Gilles Rioufol, of the Cardiologic Hospital, Hospices Civils de Lyon, said the results were unexpected.

"We were very surprised to find that almost four out of five patients present one or more ruptured atherosclerotic plaques besides the culprit lesion.

"We were even more surprised to see that these distinct ruptured plaques involved all three main coronary trunks."

Caution urged

Dr Rioufol said the findings supported the theory that the further rupture of plaques was possibly triggered by an inflammatory process.

The research is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

An editorial in the journal says the ability to diagnose weak spots before they rupture would have "tremendous potential" for heart attack prevention.

However, it warns that the study was only carried out on a small number of patients, and there were no healthy patients to provide a comparison.

See also:

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