Harvard Men's Health Watch

High-tech heart scans not always helpful

Doing high-tech heart scans on people at above-average risk of heart problems sounds like common sense, but it often doesn't add much benefit to just taking necessary medications, staying fit, eating healthy, and not smoking. This is one take-home message from a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which involved a group of people long known to be at higher cardiac risk: middle-aged adults with diabetes.

The 900 study participants were already being treated with medication and other measures to lower their blood sugar. They had no existing symptoms of clogged arteries, like chest pain or past heart attacks. Half were chosen at random to have CT angiography, a scan that can reveal cholesterol-rich deposits that lead to heart attacks.

The scans allowed doctors to step up efforts to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and blood sugar in the higher-risk individuals and hopefully prevent heart attacks. But after four years, the people who had been singled out for extra care were not better off than those who were not scanned. It's possible that people in the study were already receiving such good are that stepping it up based on heart scans didn't improve the results enough to show a difference.

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