While magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology has been in development for 20 years, only recently has it improved to the point where it can clearly capture a beating heart. With the breakthrough development of high-speed and high-strength magnets, physicians can now obtain amazingly detailed three-dimensional images of the heart never seen before. Cardiologists believe this remarkable technology can help diagnose heart problems and guide treatment for a significant number of patients.
Scripps Green Hospital is one of the first facilities in San Diego County to have this advanced technology applied to cardiac disease, utilizing a powerful new MRI magnet and sophisticated cardiac software.
For the first time, cardiologists can take pictures of moving tissue. “Imaging the heart with MRI has been a challenge until recently due to its constant motion,” says Robert Russo, MD, director of the Scripps Clinic Cardiac MRI Center. “Advances in MRI technology have allowed for high-speed imaging and synchronization. High-quality images of the heart can now be obtained and viewed online in just a few seconds.”
Cardiac MRI can show physicians how well the heart muscle is contracting as well as reveal the precise areas of damaged tissue. This non-invasive, radiation-free technique is especially useful for evaluating such conditions as coronary artery disease, heart failure and congenital heart disease.
“Cardiac MRI offers images of the heart that are unparalleled to any other imaging modality available today,” adds Scripps Clinic cardiologist Katherine Ludington, MD. “The images are incredibly detailed, allowing for precise calculations and diagnoses.”
Cardiologists estimate that about 30 percent of patients with heart disease undergo conventional methods of imaging that fall short of providing accurate information on which to guide treatment.
During the MRI examination, the patient is guided through the cavity of a large doughnut-shaped magnet. The patient lies still in the machine for about 30 minutes while the images are acquired. Since the procedure is non-invasive, no dye is injected and fasting is not required. Each scan takes between 5 and 20 seconds.
Although coronary MRI is still in its infancy – having been available for only a few years – cardiologists hope that it will soon replace conventional imaging methods as well as invasive procedures, which are used for many heart patients. “Our goal in the near future is not to have to do an invasive angiogram to study the coronary arteries,” Dr. Ludington explains.
Not all heart patients are eligible to have a cardiac MRI. This includes patients who have a cardiac pacemaker; implanted cardiac defibrillator; aneurysm clip; carotid artery vascular clamp; neurostimulator; insulin or infusion pump; implanted drug infusion device; bone growth/fusion stimulator; or cochlear or otologic implant.
Cardiac MRI is also offered at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.