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3D Heart Model Gives Cardiologists Most Accurate Picture of Blockages

By Danen Boyd May 06, 2019 Posted in: Heart Health

A new imaging technology called FFRct Analysis is giving heart specialists the most accurate picture of the heart’s coronary arteries – and blockages. That’s an exciting advance, because coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease – and heart disease is the cause of one in four deaths in the U.S.

Chest pain is scary for patients, and it can be challenging for health care providers because dozens of illnesses, injuries and conditions can cause chest pain. Even when coronary artery disease is suspected, diagnosing the severity of disease can be difficult.

Identifying Blockages Before Invasive Catheterization

The long-standing gold standard of diagnosis has been an invasive procedure called a coronary angiogram, which involves placing a catheter into a groin or wrist artery while using dye and X-rays to illuminate vessels and locate blockages.  While angiograms do detect blockages, more than half of patients (55%) are found not to have significant blockages – meaning they need no treatment – after undergoing the invasive procedure.

In order to identify blockages requiring treatment, this procedure often utilizes a sensor placed into the artery to obtain a measurement called the fractional flow reserve, or FFR for short.

How the New 3D Heart Model Works

Now, with the new technology, standard CT data can be analyzed to generate this same FFR measurement and create a color-coded 3D map of the heart which shows blockages - and how much those blockages affect blood flow - in minute detail. Its specificity and sensitivity approach 90%, compared to 50 to 70% for angiography.

Angiogram compared with FFRct Analysis

CHI Health piloted the technology at CHI Health Midlands in July 2018 and launched it soon after at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy. It will also be expanded to other hospitals, including CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island and CHI Health Good Samaritan in Kearney.

How the FFRct Analysis Supplements the Heart CT Scan

At current locations, an FFRct analysis is done whenever a heart CT scan shows a 30 to 80% potential for blockages caused by plaque formation – meaning there’s a potential but not certainty of blockages. The process works like this:

  • CT data is uploaded to the HeartFlow analysis server.
  • Certified analysts use the advanced software to create a personalized digital 3D model of coronary arteries.
  • Powerful computer algorithms assess the impact those blockages have on blood flow.
  • Specialists analyze the data from each vessel to assess if sufficient blood is reaching the heart.

Using the 3D model, cardiologists can determine severity of blockages and the appropriate level of treatment. The analysis process currently takes two to four hours, and because the system uses artificial intelligence, it gets smarter and faster with each new set of data.

With this new tool, CHI Health Heart Institute is able offer coronary artery disease diagnosis that’s significantly less invasive, more accurate, less expensive and covered by most major insurance plans.

Danen Boyd
Danen Boyd

Danen Boyd is director of cardiovascular services at the CHI Health Heart Institute.

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