"Silent" Heart Attacks Now More Common

How do you treat something that has no symptoms and goes undetected on standard screenings?

DE-CMR (delayed enhancement cardio magnetic resonance) is a new cardiac imaging technique that can detect if you've suffered a silent heat attack, which an earlier EKG might have missed.

Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton shared this new method of detection with Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.

According to Ashton, a silent heart attack is "both silent and potentially deadly," which is "very scary" because there are no typical signs like chest pain or shortness of breath.

"You as a patient might be unaware that you're having one and it doesn't leave its signature on the EKG after the fact so your doctor might not be able to tell that you've had one," she explained.

That is all changing now, she says, due to a recent study from Duke University. The study is using an MRI technology, "which has been around for a while, to actually get a picture of the damaged heart muscle, so we might be able to pick this up earlier."

The MRI technology, although not inexpensive, will be used in a new way.

"Well, for something to be considered a good screening test it really needs to be cheap, it needs to be fast, and it needs to be easily accessible," Ashton said. "MRI is really none of those things. But it is accurate. So I think that cardiologists are going to be looking more in the future as to how they're going to incorporate this and amongst what subset of patients."

Should people who are at risk of heart disease go to their doctor for an MRI?

Ashton says "probably not at this point. Again if you're high risk here, you know you're high risk. The real utility possibly in the future will be for the intermediate risk people."

There are two challenges for both the doctor and the patient -- the doctors have to figure out how it's going to be used as a screening test and the patients have to figure out how to reduce the things that put them at risk for heart disease -- "that's the key," Ashton says.

Who are the people in the group who would be considered intermediary?

"You might have a family history of heart disease, you might be obese, a smoker, high cholesterol, diabetic. If you have all of those things we know you're in a very high risk group," she explained. "So those people really don't need to be tested. It's more the intermediate group."



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