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Diagnosing a Heart Condition

Advanced imaging technologies have dramatically improved our ability to detect and treat cardiovascular disease at an early stage. Patients who are at increased risk for heart disease, either because of genetics or lifestyle choices, are especially well served by today's enhanced technology.

Collaborative Approach

At UC San Diego Health System, all imaging results are evaluated by both cardiology and radiology specialists, a collaborative approach that ensures highly accurate results.

Sophisticated Diagnostic Imaging Equipment

UC San Diego Health System's cardiac imaging and non-invasive cardiology team uses the most sophisticated equipment on the market. Both computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques can be used as an alternative to invasive angiography, a procedure that uses cardiac catheterization.

Along with other tools such as nuclear imaging, Doppler ultrasound and PET-CT scans, these noninvasive techniques provide fast, accurate visualization and analysis of the heart and surrounding structures.

Computed Tomography (CT)

A CT scan uses contrast dye injected into the body along with a series of X-ray images to provide highly detailed images of the heart and surrounding structures. It can provide accurate cardiac visualization and analysis in less than 30 seconds. UC San Diego Health System has three high-definition 64-slice CT scanners. These 64-slice scanners allow images of the heart to be taken between beats, which provides clear, detailed pictures of the heart that were not possible to obtain with earlier technology. These advanced CT scanners also have the capability to deliver radiation only as needed during the snapshots of the heart, further reducing radiation exposure to the patient. Because overexposure to radiation over a lifetime can cause health problems, the goal is to obtain the best quality images with the least amount of radiation.

UC San Diego specialists use CT technology for CT angiograms, which offers an alternative to more invasive diagnostic procedures such as cardiac catheterization with a conventional angiogram. A CT angiogram to view the heart and arteries can be performed using intravenous dye and the scanner device, without catheterization. CT angiograms also provide a non-invasive way to:

  • View stents and determine whether they have become blocked
  • Evaluate how well bypass grafts have healed
  • Provide adjunct testing to stress tests that had inconclusive results
  • Perform coronary calcium scans and evaluate risk of heart disease

Learn more about CT scans.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Cardiac MRI clearly captures images of a beating heart and is used to evaluate the heart’s anatomy and function. UC San Diego Health System is a regional leader in cardiac MRI technology, with four 1.5 Tesla scanners available for regular diagnostics and testing and for Emergency Department patients. After a heart attack, cardiac MRI can be used to immediately determine the extent of tissue damage and to guide treatment recommendations to reduce permanent damage. Using MRI can help the cardiologist or heart surgeon determine the best course of treatment to improve blood flow to the heart, such as bypass surgery or stenting.

Our new, “friendlier” MRI machines are designed to make patients more comfortable and to reduce anxiety or claustrophobia during exams. New MRI machines are wider and shorter than the traditional machines. In addition to our superior equipment, we have physicians who specialize in reading and interpreting cardiac MRIs and collaborate on treatment plans with surgeons and other physicians.

Cardiac MRI is especially useful for diagnosing and evaluating:

  • Heart and valve disease
  • Heart failure
  • Pulmonary artery disease
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Heart attack tissue damage

Learn more about magnetic resonance imaging.