Whole-body MRI scans have been controversial in medical circles, with critics arguing they sometimes flag minor, non-threatening conditions that never pose a significant health or death risk, but increase a patient's anxiety or lead to unnecessarily aggressive treatment.
But a new study suggests whole-body MRI can help predict heart attacks and stroke in people with diabetes and may, in fact, be a valuable noninvasive tool for assessing those risks.
The study, published online in the journal Radiology, is based on an analysis of 65 patients with diabetes who were given whole-body MRI scans to track their cardiovascular risks.
Researchers from the Department of Radiology at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, tracked the patients over six-year period and found those whose scans identified levels of atherosclerosis — clogging or thickening of the arterial walls — were far more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
Lead researcher Fabian Bamberg, M.D. said the findings are proof that whole-body MRI scans can effectively predict the risk of those cardiovascular problems in diabetics — long before other signs and symptoms surface — and could become more widely used to treat or even prevent them.
"One of the major advantages of whole-body MRI in this population is that the technique itself is not associated with radiation exposure, and larger body areas can be covered without increased risk, especially in younger patients," said Dr. Bamberg. "As such, MRI can be used to evaluate the whole-body degree of disease burden that is not clinically apparent yet."
Diabetes strikes about 347 million people worldwide, and the World Health Organization projects that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.
Patients with diabetes are known to develop atherosclerosis at an accelerated rate, resulting in a higher rate of heart attack and stroke.
"Whole-body MRI may help in identifying patients who are at very high risk for future events and require intensified treatment or observation," Dr. Bamberg said. "Conversely, the absence of any changes on whole-body MRI may reassure diabetic patients that their risk for a heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiac or cerebrovascular event is low."
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