Researchers in the U.K. have used PET/CT with a radioactive tracer 18F-sodium fluoride (18F-NaF) to identify ruptured or high-risk coronary atherosclerotic plaques with the goal of further identifying individuals who may be at high risk of suffering heart attacks.
In a study published online in The Lancet, the researchers looked at 40 patients who recently suffered a heart attack, and 40 patients with angina.
By using PET/CT with the radioactive tracer, the researchers found that 90 percent of the heart attack victims showed a lit up area in one of their blood vessels that corresponded exactly with the area of the plaque buildup that cause their heart attacks, Medical News Today reported.
In addition, the PET/CT scan also showed lit up plaques in about 40 percent of the patients with angina.
"Being able to identify dangerous fatty plaques likely to cause a heart attack is something that conventional heart tests can't do," Peter Weissburg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the study, said. "This research suggests that PET-CT scanning may provide an answer--identifying 'ticking time bomb' patients at risk of a heart attack. We now need to confirm these findings, and then understand how best to use new tests like this in the clinic to benefit heart patients."
Study co-author Marc Dweck told BBC News, "Heart attacks are the biggest killer in the Western world and there is no prior warning, the first time people know about heart disease is when they have a heart attack. If we can treat and stabilize the plaques then we might be able to prevent heart attacks and stop people dying."