Cardiac CT scans, which are used to detect blockages or narrowing in the arteries, could be vastly more accurate when paired with artificial intelligence. Researchers funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the technology could save thousands of lives by predicting a person’s risk of having a heart attack up to 10 years in the future.
According to The Guardian, the University of Oxford researchers analyzed more than 40,000 patients who had CT scans at eight U.K. hospitals. They were followed for a median of 2.7 years. Surprisingly, the researchers found that patients whose scans showed significant narrowing of the arteries were more likely to have a serious heart attack, but twice as many patients with no significant narrowing also went on to have heart attacks, which were sometimes fatal.
The team then applied a new AI tool, that used information on changes in the fat around inflamed arteries — which can indicate the risk of events such as heart attacks ─ as well as information on the narrowing of the arteries and other clinical risk factors. Further testing on an additional 3,393 patients over 7.7 years revealed AI technology could independently and accurately predict risk of cardiac events.
Among patients with no obstruction in their arteries, those with the highest levels of inflammation in their blood vessels had a more than 10-fold higher risk of cardiac death compared to those with lower levels of inflammation, says a news release from the University of Oxford
“Here we demonstrated that providing an accurate picture of risk to clinicians can alter, and potentially improve, the course of treatment for many heart patients,” said Dr. Charalambos Antoniades, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the BHF and director of the acute multidisciplinary imaging and intervention center at Oxford. “Our study found that some patients presenting in a hospital with chest pain — who are often reassured and sent back home — are at high risk of having a heart attack in the next decade, even in the absence of any sign of disease in their heart arteries.”
The team of researchers presented their AI-generated results to clinicians for 744 patients, and found that in up to 45% of cases, the physicians changed patients’ treatment plans, indicating how important the AI technology is in identifying and treating those at risk of major cardiac events.
The AI technology could potentially save the lives of thousands with chest pain, who may not have been identified as at risk of a heart attack, and therefore may not have received appropriate treatment to lower their risk. The technology was also found to be cost-effective, and the researchers said they hoped it would change the management of patients who were referred for chest pain investigations across the National Health Service.
Dr. Nilesh Samani, medical director at the BHF, said the research “shows the valuable role AI-based technology can play” in identifying those most at risk of having future heart attacks.
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