New camera eases heart testing

August 24, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Waynesboro Hospital started testing patients with nuclear imaging cameras in 1985, the same year that cardiologist Dr. Rose Dagen was hired to head up the hospital's cardiac services unit.

In the 19 years since, Dagen has helped set up and run three generations of gamma ray cameras to diagnose patients suffering from heart disease.

They also help physicians diagnose patients with liver disease, gall bladder, thyroid and kidney problems, find blood clots in lungs and do bone scans to see if cancer has spread, said Judy Reitz, one of three technicians who run the camera in the nuclear medicine department.


The newest camera, which went into operation in October, required the hospital to build a new facility to hold it and its accessories, including two treadmills, said Michael Hockenberry, director of allied services for the hospital.

The new camera, the third update in the nuclear imaging department, is "state of the art," Dagen said.

It takes its images in half the time of the equipment it replaced, Reitz said.

With the old camera, patients had to keep both arms above their heads, an uncomfortable position to hold for the half-hour it took to complete the procedure, Reitz said.

The new camera revolves around a patient's chest, eliminating the need to roll the entire body, including the head, into a tunnel-like device - a boon to patients who tend to be claustrophobic, Reitz said.

The camera can accommodate patients up to 400 pounds, about 70 pounds more than the one it replaced.

"The images it produces are markedly improved," making it easier to evaluate a patient's condition, Dagen said.

Before nuclear imagery cameras, physicians gave stress tests on treadmills to determine the condition of a patient's heart. "It was not that sensitive," Dagen said. "Adding nuclear imagery increased the sensitivity 90 percent."

Patients are given stress tests to dilate coronary arteries, either on the treadmill if their legs are capable, or through a chemical, Dagen said. They are then injected with a specific isotope which is taken up by the heart muscle. Isotopes give off the radiation that is picked up by the imaging camera. Areas of the heart that don't take up the isotope are those that are damaged, she said.

"It tells us where the blockages are," she said. "It also tells us how well the heart pump is squeezing."

Images of patients at rest also are taken and the results compared against those taken following a stress test, Dagen said.

The tests can tell if a patient ever had a heart attack and didn't know it, as sometimes happens, she said.

"More than half the people who have heart attacks have no warning. Many people with symptoms of heart disease don't have chest pains," she said.

People at the greatest risk for heart disease are smokers, obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, a family history of the disease and those who live sedentary lives, she said.

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