October 2012

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Health Capsule

MRI Shows Promise for Heart Procedures

An experimental MRI method may be as safe and swift as standard X-ray procedures for imaging the heart during certain types of surgery. The new finding suggests a radiation-free alternative to the current method.

Doctors use a procedure called cardiac catheterization to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. They ease a thin flexible tube, or catheter, through blood vessels, usually beginning in the arm, neck or leg and ending in specific areas of the heart.

To make sure the catheter is reaching the right spot, surgeons often use special X-ray “movies” that show the tube’s movement. The movies use low, generally safe doses of radiation. But the X-rays can pose risks to children and people who undergo long or repeated procedures.

NIH scientists have been working to develop rapid MRI methods that that can help surgeons see and place cardiac catheters without radiation. MRI uses harmless radio waves and magnetic fields to create pictures.

In the study, 15 patients with heart disorders underwent cardiac catheterization using first X-ray and then MRI guidance. The average procedure time for the 2 approaches was similar. Procedure steps were as successful with MRI as with X-ray guidance.

“This could be the first chapter of a big story,” says Dr. Robert S. Balaban, a heart imaging expert at NIH. “It provides evidence that clinical heart catheter procedures are possible without using radiation, which could be especially valuable in areas such as pediatrics.”