New test helps detect heart failure

More than 5 million Americans are living with heart failure. Now there's a way to detect one of the leading causes of the condition, without going inside the heart. The new test allows doctors to prevent heart failure before patients start having symptoms.

It's a less-invasive approach that could save lives. It has the potential of also offering peace of mind to people like Shellie Green who has a family history of heart disease.

"You begin to think about a lot of things like, 'What's going on with me? Am I going to be all right,' you know?"

Shellie is getting a nuclear stress test designed to find blockages. Now, researchers have discovered the same test can also determine if Shellie has one of the two types of heart failure.

Dineshkumar Patel, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, Georgia says, "It is to me very exciting because it will open many doors."

More than 50 percent of people with heart failure have the diastolic type. That's when the left side of the heart doesn't pump enough blood, leading to a buildup of blood in the lungs.

Dr. Patel says, "The heart can pump the blood to all different organs as much as it receives. If heart cannot receive enough blood, it will not pump as much as it would like to."

Before this discovery  Dr. Patel says diagnosis was more difficult. Doctors had two options, an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create an image of the beating heart, or cardiac catheterization, in which doctors thread a catheter into the heart; a test that's too invasive for some patients.

Pointing to the created images, Dr. Patel points out that, "If the heart is filling slowly then this part of the curve would be very delayed and take a long time."

In this less invasive new test doctors inject radioactive dye into Shellie's vein, allowing them to take pictures of her heart -- 16 snap shots of each beat. In a study, researchers say the stress test correctly diagnosed patients 94 percent of the time.

Dr. Patel explains the procedure to Shellie during the test.

"You see this curve is very steep. That means it's filling very fast. You are doing good so far."

Shellie's heart is tested at rest and under stress. Dr. Patel says the news is good; no blockages and no heart failure.

It's the news Shellie was hoping for.

"I just want to just be alright."

Doctor Patel says you can be in great physical shape but still have diastolic heart dysfunction. And this new test helps doctors prevent heart failure before patients start complaining of chest pain and feeling out of breath.