Scanner allows SCH to get to the heart of the matter

SALEM – A technology available at Salem Community Hospital allows doctors to see inside a patient’s beating heart, revealing whether there’s a risk for heart attack or something wrong with the valves or function of the heart.

“This answers a tremendous amount of information,” Dr. Peter Apicella said during a recent interview to bring attention to affairs of the heart during American Heart Month.

Apicella serves as chairman of the Salem Community Hospital Medical Imaging Department, where the Dual-128 CT scanner produces 3-D images in a quarter of a second, with higher image quality and 80 percent less radiation than other CT scanners in the area. The scanner at SCH is the only one of its kind between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, taking more than 800,000 lives each year and affecting millions more through coronary artery disease, strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, angina, heart failure and cardiovascular disease.

According to Apicella, the most common cause of heart attack is cholesterol plaque buildup in the coronary arteries. When the cholesterol builds up, pieces can break off and block the blood vessels, disrupting the blood flow into the heart and causing a heart attack.

Risk factors for heart disease include age, family history, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, high stress and a diet rich in saturated fats and low in antioxidants.

“A lot of this is preventable,” he said. “The only thing you can’t control is family history.”

Heart disease symptoms can include: pain or pressure in the chest; discomfort spreading to the back, jaw, throat or arm (usually the left); nausea, indigestion or heartburn; weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath; and rapid or irregular heartbeats.

For women, there may be less specific symptoms such as heartburn, loss of appetite, tiredness, weakness, coughing and heart flutters.

If a person does not die instantly from a heart attack, they end up in the emergency room where a number of tests are done, including an EKG. In most cases where a heart attack is diagnosed at SCH, Apicella said the patient is shipped to a cardiac care center in Youngstown or Akron for immediate treatment.

The more challenging patient is the one where the symptoms aren’t as obvious and doctors aren’t sure whether they’re having a heart attack. Apicella said those patients and the patients who go to their doctor’s offices with symptoms with uncertainty are the ones a CT coronary angiography can help.

The CT is non-invasive and fast and generates 3-D images of the heart showing the beating heart and blood vessels. A doctor can look at the detailed images and see the cholesterol plaque building up in the coronary arteries and evaluate heart valves and muscle.

By seeing the amount of plaque buildup, doctors can possibly treat the problem. If a heart bypass is recommended, doctors can see what they need to reroute the blood. Doctors can see where to place a stent to open up blood vessels so the blood can flow through.

Everything can be done quicker because the images allow doctors to see inside the heart.

The SCH Dual-128 CT scanner allows for imaging of all parts of the body in less time, with less radiation and sharper images produced. Besides the cardiac CT, the scanner allows for a virtual colonoscopy, 3-D lung cancer screening and 3-D CT urogram to see the kidneys and bladder, classify kidney stone composition and find early cancers, a description of the technology said.