This new test uses special magnetic resonance imaging to take pictures of the heart as it is beating. By using this technology, doctors have recently been able to direct medication to the source of the pain without damaging surrounding nerves and arteries.
This is the same MRI technology used to treat pain from cancer and nerve injuries. MRIs have the most detail and accuracy, but up to now have been useful mainly for looking at organs that don't move, like the brain or bones.
Doctors at Wake Forest University in North Carolina say the new test is accurate 97 percent of the time in predicting heart disease, according to their report in the journal Circulation.
This test is unique because doctors are able to synchronize the machine with the heartbeat so they can take images of the heart while it is in action. Doctors can then examine the structure of the heart and see how well it is functioning.
In a standard stress test, patients are injected with a radioactive substance and put on a treadmill so the doctor can see how the heart handles physical exertion. The traditional test cannot be used for people who are obese, anyone with lung disease, or those who have undergone heart surgery.
The new test is currently available only at Wake Forest University, but doctors hope to be able to offer it to other medical centers soon.