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Scan can now spot risk of heart failure in young people

Friday 24th May 2019
BHF-funded research has developed a scan that can detect disarray in heart muscle fibres, which is a potential sign of future cardiac arrest.
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Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an inherited heart condition affecting one person out of every 500 worldwide, has long been known to potentially cause heart failure. Its main feature is part of the heart muscle becoming much thicker than usual, but up until now there has been no way to tell whether this is likely to lead to cardiac arrest or not.

However, research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has led to the development of a scan that can detect what is known as ‘disarray’ in the muscle fibres of the heart. This is a key indicator of potential future cardiac arrest, but before this scan it was only detectable post-mortem by examining the patient’s heart.

This is an impressive breakthrough, as it will allow doctors to spot disarray early. Patients suffering from this condition can then have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) device inserted into their heart, which would then shock the organ back to a normal rhythm if necessary.

HCM is one of the leading causes of heart attacks in young people. Given that sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of 12 people under the age of 35 per week in the UK, this is a breakthrough that will be welcomed by doctors and patients alike.

Further work is now needed to refine the scan. Ideally it will be made shorter and faster for patients, as this will allow it to be tested in a larger, multicentre study. However, the basic science behind it is sound and it represents a huge step forward in tackling heart disease.

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director of the BHF, said: “This exciting research opens up the possibility of using a non-invasive scan to better spot heart muscle changes in people with HCM, find those at risk of a sudden cardiac arrest and ensure they receive the best preventative care.”

Written by Matthew Horton

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