Positron emission tomography (PET) in combination with computed tomography (CT) offers a “superior” view of atherosclerosis plaque inflammation—so much so that it may eventually be used to identify individuals who are at high risk for heart attack or stroke, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Their findings were released during SNM’s 53rd Annual Meeting June 3–7 in San Diego.
“The future is using PET/CT—and other developing technologies—to assess plaques that are biologically active with deadly consequences when they misbehave,” said Ahmed Tawakol, cardiologist and co-director of the Cardiac MR/PET/CT Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “PET/CT in combination is more powerful than either PET or CT alone, providing us with an enriched data set,” added the co-author of “Combined PET/CT Assessment of Carotid Plaques: A Human Histopathological Study.” He explained, “In investigating the use of today’s imaging technologies to predict those individuals with high risk for stroke or heart attack, we determined we can possibly improve on current risk stratification strategies by identifying patients as being at low, moderate, high or very high risk for developing a heart attack or stroke.” PET/CT “may allow us to identify patients at highest risk for heart attacks or strokes, so physicians can focus the appropriate medical attention on them more quickly and more aggressively,” said Tawakol. In addition, it “might allow us to reclassify individuals previously thought to be at high risk. Biologically inactive plaques suggest a moderate or even low risk, thereby sparing patients more aggressive interventions,” he added.
Atherosclerosis is the process in which deposits of fats, cholesterol, cellular waste products and other substances—called plaque—build up in the inner lining of an artery. This may limit blood flow through the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head and neck. More than 71 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, which claims more lives than cancer, accidents and HIV (AIDS) combined.
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