A See Change
At age 42, Jonathan Schwartz felt he was at the peak of his health. A fitness buff, he played softball and basketball and worked out regularly. When he found himself looking at a coronary CT angiogram showing near-total blockage in one of his major arteries, the feeling was “definitely surreal,” recalls Jonathan.
The latest high-tech, noninvasive cardiac imaging tools, such as coronary CT angiography and cardiac MRI—currently being developed and refined at Cedars-Sinai—provide a vivid roadmap that can expose heart disease in its earliest stages.
Cardiac imaging can dramatically alter patient outcomes, as demonstrated in pioneering research led by Daniel Berman, MD, chief of Cardiac Imaging and Nuclear Cardiology at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center. In Dr. Berman’s Early Identification of Subclinical Atherosclerosis with Noninvasive Imaging Research (EISNER) study, healthy volunteers who were shown their coronary calcium scan ended up losing more weight and achieving lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol after four years, compared to those who did not have a scan.
“For people at risk, seeing plaque in their coronary arteries goes a long way toward helping them achieve optimal health, because it motivates them to change their lifestyle and get on the right medications—which can prevent unnecessary heart attacks,” says Dr. Berman.
For Jonathan, the angiogram was an opportunity to make himself healthier. “I chose a path of extreme optimism,” he says. After having a stent inserted to open up his blocked artery, he adopted a strict plant-based diet, increased his level of exercise, and began taking appropriate medications. Jonathan successfully slashed his “bad” LDL cholesterol to ideal levels. He also established the HeartView Global Foundation, which helps offer these tests to people who can’t afford them, and supports new research in the field of cardiac imaging.
The multiple uses of coronary CT angiography have been investigated through a large registry involving 32,000 patients who have undergone this noninvasive imaging technique at 18 sites around the world. The project is led by James K. Min, MD, director of Cardiac Imaging Research and co-director of Cardiac Imaging at Cedars-Sinai. Developed over the past two years, the registry has already published more than 40 studies showing that coronary CT angiography is the most accurate method available for predicting the risk of heart attack.
“What we see on a patient’s CT angiogram can help us gauge their risk of heart disease, which leads to improved treatment decisions,” says Dr. Berman. “Based on the information provided by these tests, we can detect and treat at-risk patients to reduce their rate of heart attacks by up to 80 percent.”