Cardiologists Studying New Way to Screen for Heart Disease

A multi-center study led by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center cardiologist David M. Herrington, M.D., M.H.S., suggests that measuring the stiffness of arteries to screen for early atherosclerosis may be another way to identify people at risk for heart disease or stroke.

Herrington’s study was published in on-line this week in Circulation, a medical journal of the American Heart Association. “The study suggests another way to identify people who are at risk for coronary heart disease,” said Herrington. “Fifty percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms of the disease.”

The blood vessels of individuals who are in the early stages of atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries,” begin to stiffen due to the buildup of plaque on the interior walls of the vessels. Using a non-invasive test to detect this disease would allow treatment to begin much earlier in an effort to reduce the odds of further cardiovascular disease.

The study, which involved 267 participants, showed that measurements taken with a blood-pressure-like test, and confirmed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), were “strongly predictive of extent of aortic atherosclerosis.” The device measured blood volume in the leg as a way to gauge artery stiffness.

In addition to Wake Forest Baptist, the study was conducted at the Atlanta V. A. Medical Center, Columbia University Medical Center, and Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami Medical Center.

“Many people are unaware that they have early stages of heart disease that could be treated,” said Herrington. “We are working hard at Wake Forest Baptist to develop new ways to identify these people so they can begin preventive treatment sooner and avoid having a heart attack or stroke.”

Herrington said the test is still under development and not yet ready for clinical use. But he said that a further study of the test was warranted. The research team led by Herrington included W. Virgil Brown, M.D., Atlanta V. A. Medical Center, Ga., Lori Mosca, M.D., Ph.D., Columbia University Medical Center, N.Y., Warren Davis, M.D., Atlanta V. A. Medical Center, Ga., Barry Eggleston, Rho, Inc., W. Gregory Hundley, M.D., Wake Forest Baptist and Jeffrey Raines, Ph.D., University of Miami Medical Center, Fla. The project was supported in part by a grant from Credit Swisse First Boston, New York.

According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is the single largest killer of men and women America. Approximately every 26 seconds someone will suffer from a coronary event in the United States and about every minute someone will die from one.

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