MRI may improve diagnosis of ‘silent’ killer

MRI could be used to help identify patients with hardening of the arteries who are at risk of thrombosis, new research suggests.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify high-risk plaques in the blood would provide a non-invasive way to diagnose those at risk of thrombosis, the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) said.

And that could enable doctors to intervene earlier to stabilise the dangerous plaques in patients with atherosclerosis – or furring of the arteries – a chronic disease that can remain ‘silent’ and go undetected for years before causing heart attacks or strokes following thrombosis.

The disease of the vascular system is linked with the accumulation of cholesterol and inflammation which thickens artery walls. Heart attacks or strokes can happen when a high-risk plaque disrupts the surface of the vessel, followed by a blockage of blood flow.

The research team used MRI to identify and locate high-risk plaques by measuring the blood flow over them. It can also be used to assess the effect of any interventions, research leader James A Hamilton, professor of biophysics and physiology at BUSM, said.

He added: “Early identification of ‘high-risk’ plaques prior to acute cardiovascular events will provide enhanced decision making and might improve patient management by allowing prompt aggressive interventions that aim to stabilise plaques.”

The researchers’ findings appear in the latest issue of Circulation Cardiovascular Imaging.