MRI scans best to identify high risk heart disease patients

16 May 2016        

MRI scanner

The best way of identifying people at high risk of coronary heart disease following chest pain or angina is an MRI scan according to research we funded.

A clinical study at the University of Leeds compared MRI scans, a non-invasive test which does not use potentially dangerous radiation, with SPECT, a procedure which uses ionising radiation and is commonly used in the diagnosis of coronary heart disease. 

The findings

The researchers found that MRI was better overall at predicting serious events, such as death or heart attack, following chest pain suspected to be angina. The five-year follow-up study in 750 people was designed to find out the best way of separating patients based on whether they were at high- or low- risk of serious heart events.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease, the world’s biggest killer, is responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 190 people each day, or one death around every eight minutes. Most deaths from heart disease are caused by a heart attack. Coronary heart disease occurs when the vital arteries which serve the heart are narrowed or blocked by a build-up of fatty tissues. This can cause chest pain, or angina, which can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.

The CE-MARC study

The paper, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, resulted from a large five year follow-up study and follows a series of papers from the original CE-MARC (Clinical Evaluation of MAgnetic Resonance imaging in Coronary heart disease) study. 

These papers have contributed to the growing body of evidence that cardiac MRI is the best option for the diagnosis and management of patients with coronary heart disease. Earlier evidence from this BHF-funded study also showed that MRI is more cost-effective than SPECT in the diagnosis of coronary heart disease. 

What’s next?

Professor John Greenwood, from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, who led on the BHF-funded research, said:

“Although SPECT is currently more widely available than MRI, the use of MRI across a wide spectrum of diseases means that it will be much more readily available for heart disease investigation in coming years. 

“The benefits of cardiac MRI are not limited to reducing exposure to ionising radiation. The non-invasive cardiac MRI test, which is not only more diagnostically accurate and cost effective for the NHS than SPECT, is also potentially better at forecasting the outcome of the disease.

“The outcomes of this study could lead to changes in clinical guidelines and to the way doctors investigate chest pain due to suspected heart disease.”

How you can help

We invested heavily in magnetic resonance scanners for research, including in Leeds, over a decade ago. Help us to continue funding research and investing in equipment to improve diagnosis and care for people with heart disease.

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