3-D Better For Heart Views

CAROUSEL -- President Obama talks to CBS "Early Show" Anchor Harry Smith.
An echocardiogram uses non-invasive ultrasound technology to look at the beating heart in two dimensions. And now, reports The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, the latest generation of ultrasound is providing doctors with much more information by creating a three-dimensional view of the beating heart.

In Wednesday''s segment of The Early Show's "Heartscore" series, Senay says high blood pressure and complications from bypass surgery mean James Zaffarese needs close monitoring of his health. Now, doctors are using the latest ultrasound technology to examine his heart non-invasively.

"It's very reassuring," Zaffarese says. "It's a lot faster. You get it over with and get it done with and he tells you exactly what the deal is."

The new technology enables cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Stahl of St. Francis Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., to analyze the heart from many angles, to create detailed 3-D images that provide a wealth of information.

"This technology," he says, "captures the heart function exactly how the heart is functioning in the chest, three dimensionally, while the heart is moving, over time, under different circumstances…looking for coronary artery disease, blockages in the heart, looking for what they call cardiomyopathy, which is muscular heart disease. And thirdly, it is for valvular heart disease, when the heart valves don't work."

New York bond trader Walter Ruskiewicz had no idea he had a coronary artery blockage before he went to get checked out for feeling fatigued. He's glad he did: "The doctor said, if I hadn't gone to get checked out, I would have had a heart attack, and the odds were very much that it would have been fatal."

Stahl says ultrasound screening has the potential to be useful for millions of people at high risk for heart disease.

How would Stahl grade it as far as improving his ability to make a diagnosis? "I think that it is an evolutionary leap. …The information is more sensitive and more specific. We will not, as physicians, make as many mistakes either telling the patient they don't have heart disease when they do or, worse yet, telling them they do have heart disease when they don't."

The ease and the speed of this new ultrasound could mean shorter appointments for patients and enable doctors to see more patients who might benefit from the technology, Senay points out.

Right now, there are only a handful of these new machines in operation around the country, she adds, and it's very expensive technology. But as time goes on, the hope is it will become less expensive and more widely available.