New study to improve diagnosis of the cause of heart failure

8 August 2018        

Category: Research

A new study that could prevent missed or wrongful diagnosis of the underlying cause of heart failure has been funded by the  BHF.

MRI scanner with patient and doctor news pages 640 actual

Researchers at the University of Leicester have been awarded a £158,000 project grant from the nation’s biggest heart charity to compare the accuracy of two different diagnostic tests that are normally used to help detect causes of heart failure. 

Heart failure is a long-term condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood around the body as effectively as it should. 

Its main symptoms include shortness of breath and feeling unusually tired or weak. Patients are also likely to develop swollen feet, ankles and stomach, along with swelling around the lower back area. For people with severe heart failure, everyday tasks like going upstairs or walking to the shops become impossible.

Detecting heart failure

To detect the causes of heart failure, patients can undergo a cardiac MRI ‘stress’ test. Two drugs - adenosine and dobutamine - can be used to ‘stress’ the heart. Either drug can be injected into patients to increase the workload of the heart, allowing doctors to better assess blood flow to the heart and see which parts of the heart muscle are not receiving an adequate blood supply. 

However, it is unclear which of these drugs is the most accurate for detecting narrowed arteries, which reduce blood flow to the heart, and researchers at Leicester suspect that some patients with heart failure have a reduced sensitivity to adenosine.  This could potentially lead to missed or wrongful diagnosis.

Improving diagnosis

The two-year study will compare the two drugs in 100 patients with heart failure to find out which provides the most accurate diagnosis in cardiac MRI stress testing. The research, thought to be the first of its kind in people with heart failure, is being led by Professor Gerry McCann at the University of Leicester BHF Cardiovascular Research Centre based at Leicester’s Hospitals.

Professor Gerry McCann, Professor of Cardiac Imaging at the University of Leicester and Consultant Cardiologist at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “MRI scanning is the best way to determine the cause of heart failure, as it allows us to take highly sophisticated images of the beating heart and examine it in much greater detail. It also presents us with a safe and accurate way to diagnose if coronary heart disease is the likely underlying cause.

“However, we don’t know which medicine allows us to best look at the blood supply to the heart during the MRI scan. This research will help us to understand which drug is the most effective, and could help us to prevent missed or wrongful diagnoses which would directly affect the care given.”

Best treatment

Dr Lucie Duluc, our Research Advisor, said: “Heart failure is a chronic condition that affects over half a million people in the UK. It currently has no cure and claims thousands of lives each year. 

“Funding this new research at the University of Leicester could improve the diagnosis of the underlying causes of heart failure. This will allow people to receive the best treatments in order to live full and active lives.

“This funding has only been made possible by the fantastic generosity of the public. We rely on their support to drive forward research programmes in our mission to beat heartbreak forever and ensure that we keep hearts beating and blood flowing.”