CT scan, other tests equally effective for heart patients

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Standard stress tests and CT scans used to diagnose heart problems are equally effective in helping patients avoid death and heart attacks, researchers said Saturday.

But a patient who undergoes a CT scan for initial diagnosis is less likely to need subsequent tests, doctors told the annual gathering of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego.

The scientists followed 10,003 patients, some of whom underwent standard tests that measured their hearts' response to stress - using electrical signals, sound waves or imaging.

The rest of the patients underwent a heart CT scan, which produces a 3D image of arteries.

"Until this study, we have essentially been guessing on decisions about which initial test to use for this huge population of patients who need evaluation for cardiovascular symptoms," said Duke University professor of medicine Pamela Douglas, the study's lead author.

"Our study shows that the prognostic outcomes are excellent and are similar regardless of what type of test you use."

But she added that CT scans could be safer in some instances, helping patients to avoid subsequent testing as well as radiation exposure associated with the nuclear stress tests that many patients receive.

The US and Canadian patients who participated in the study had no known coronary artery disease, but all had new symptoms indicating heart disease.

Most had at least one risk factor for heart disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes or a history of smoking.

The study found that the rate of death, heart attack, major procedural complications or hospitalisation for chest pain for both groups during two years of check-ups was roughly 3 per cent, a number that researchers said was lower than expected.

The team also studied medical costs and reimbursements for the procedures and are presenting those findings separately.

At least four million patients report symptoms of heart disease each year, including chest pain and shortness of breath, the researchers said.