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‘Game-changing’ scans could predict heart attacks, study says

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Researchers have come up with a new form of medical scan which could predict heart attacks and prevent them from happening.

The technology works by analysing fatty tissue surrounding the coronary arteries, flagging up potential problems and enabling the early detection of inflammations that are the leading cause of heart attacks.

More than 100,000 people die from a heart attack or related stroke each year in the UK, and they are the two of the biggest overall causes of death worldwide, but the experts behind these new findings suggest many of those could be avoided.

Professor Charalambous Antoniades, who led the study at the University of Oxford, told Sky News that he was excited about the potential of the technology.

Charalambous Antoniades led the study which found a new scan which could predict heart attacks
Image:
Charalambous Antoniades led the study which found a new scan which could predict heart attacks

“It essentially uses CT scans of the heart and brings to the surface information that has always been there but that we have not been able to see,” he explained.

“With this new method, we are able to analyse scans from people who have this cardiac CT and predict pretty accurately who will have a heart attack over the next five to 10 years.

“This gives us time to prepare and give aggressive treatment to these people to prevent these heart attacks from happening, and the first step is to incorporate it into standard CT scans around the world.”

Professor Antoniades – whose Oxford team collaborated on the research with colleagues at Cleveland Clinic in the US and the University of Erlangen in Germany – estimated that 10% of heart attack deaths in the UK could be prevented.

According to the latest figures from the British Heart Foundation, 180 people die of a heart attack every day.

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the charity – which funded the research – said: “Most heart scans are good at spotting blockages caused by large plaques, but not the smaller, high-risk plaques that are likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.

“This new technique could be a game changer – allowing doctors to spot those ticking time bomb patients who are most at risk of a heart attack, and getting them on to intensive treatment. This would undoubtedly save lives.”

The charity helped finance the study, the results of which were presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich and later published in medical journal Lancet.

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