Images Of The Heart

Designer Donatella Versace and actor Jet Li attend the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art gala and studio party on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009 in New York.
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
Small heart attacks have been difficult to confirm, even with the best technology. Now, a new tool enables doctors to grab images of the heart that provide what could be life-saving detail.

One woman can breathe a lot easier thanks to the new technology, reports Mallika Marshall of WBZ-TV.

Carrie Bese had a history of heart artery blockages. Her latest episode sent her straight to the hospital.

"I never had pain like that before, I knew my body was telling me something was wrong," says Bese.

But doctors weren't sure if she'd had cardiac arrest, because even the best imaging tests frequently miss the smaller heart attacks. So Bese was taken for a cardiac MRI scan, which uses a giant magnet to create the images.

According to recent research from Duke University and published in The Lancet medical journal, a cardiac MRI picks up heart attacks missed by standard imaging tests.

"The images have a higher quality, you can see more detail," says Dr. Robert Judd of the Duke University Medical Center.

Bese may need further treatment down the road, but for now, the news is good because no evidence of a heart attack was found in her MRI scan.

"To see the movement of it, the power of it, it's such a miracle," says Bese.

The cardiac MRI can also be used to perform a stress test. Doctors can now pump medicine into the heart, which mimics the effects of exercise.

Dr. Marshall says the MRI is also helpful at detecting the build-up of plaque and blockages in the blood vessels. The presence of such blockages could signal coronary artery disease. After an initial diagnosis of coronary disease, the scan can help doctors determine the best course of treatment.

The cardiac MRI is non-invasive and in many cases can be done more quickly and less expensively than other tests. And an MRI does not expose patients to radiation or to the introduction of radioisotopes to the body.

Dr. Marshall warns that though the procedure is effective, it is not recommended during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Also, patients should inform doctors of any metal implants they may have, because the strong magnetic field may affect the device.