Tulane Medical Center Breaks New Ground With Non-Invasive Tool for Coronary Heart Disease

NEW ORLEANS – Tulane Medical Center is the first healthcare facility in the New Orleans region to offer HeartFlow FFR-CT (or fractional flow reserve by computed tomography) Analysis technology, a non-invasive tool to offer patients and their physicians insight into both the extent of a patient’s heart disease and the impact these blockages have on blood flow to the heart muscle by imaging coronary artery blockages.

“Essentially, this new imaging method allows physicians new information about both the anatomy – the blockages – and physiology – the blood flow – of coronary heart disease. This non-invasive test will help make decisions as to the best approach to an individual patient’s heart problems, and it allows us to do so without having patients undergo additional tests or procedures,” said Dr. Robert Hendel, chief of cardiology at Tulane University School of Medicine and director of the Tulane Heart & Vascular Institute. “That means not only added patient convenience and satisfaction, but – most importantly –  it helps physicians plan the best strategy for every patient. This test improves a doctor’s ability to inform patients regarding whether or not they may benefit from either coronary stenting or bypass surgery.” 

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Coronary artery disease develops when the arteries providing blood to the heart muscle narrow, often because of the buildup of plaque in the vessel walls. These coronary narrowings can reduce blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain, heart attacks and death.

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Studies have shown the need to improve the accuracy of non-invasive tests used to evaluate coronary artery disease. A recent study, which included data from more than 1,100 U.S. hospitals, found that more than half of the 385,000 patients with suspected coronary artery disease who underwent an invasive coronary angiogram had no need for intervention like stenting since no blood-flow-limiting blockage was found during the test.

“Up until very recently, physicians have been faced with either using tests we knew had limitations or having a patient undergo an invasive procedure, like cardiac catheterization.” Dr. Hendel said. “The HeartFlow Analysis completely changes this approach, providing essential information that can help us determine the right approach for an individual patient with a convenient, non-invasive CT scan of the coronary arteries. The impact of this approach has already been shown to select those patients who will most benefit from coronary revascularization.”

Using the images obtained from a coronary CT angiogram, the HeartFlow technology creates a personalized, digital 3D model of each patient’s arteries. Powerful computer algorithms then solve millions of complex equations to assess the impact of any blockages on blood flow. This information aids physicians in determining the appropriate course of action for each patient. 

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“The HeartFlow Analysis will help us develop the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient with coronary artery disease, usually without the need for additional and often invasive procedures,” Dr. Hendel said. “We are very proud to be the first to offer this service, which is part of our expanding cardiovascular services and cutting-edge technologies at Tulane.”

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