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MRI Scans May Predict Heart Risks in Diabetics

Update Date: Sep 10, 2013 12:56 PM EDT

MRI scans may help predict the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes, a new study suggests.

Diabetics are known to develop atherosclerosis, a disease in which the artery wall thickens as a result of the build up fatty materials like cholesterol and triglyceride. Because of this, people with diabetes are more likely to suffer major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular events like heart attack or stroke.

Researchers the latest findings suggest that the whole-body MRI can help assess the cardiovascular health of people with diabetes.

"One of the major advantages of whole-body MRI in this population is that the technique itself is not associated with radiation exposure, and larger body areas can be covered without increased risk, especially in younger patients," Fabian Bamberg, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Radiology at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, said in a news release. "As such, MRI can be used to evaluate the whole-body degree of disease burden that is not clinically apparent yet."

The study involved 65 patients with diabetes.  The participants underwent a contrast-enhanced whole-body MRI protocol, including brain, cardiac and vascular sequences. Afterwards, researchers looked at the rate of MACCE in the study group.

Researchers found that after 5.8 years, 14 patients had experienced MACCE.  Researchers said that patients who had vascular changes on whole-body MRI were 20 percent more likely to suffer MACCE at three years and 35 percent more likely to suffer MACCE at six years.

However, none of the patients with normal whole-body MRI went on to experience MACCE.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that whole-body MRI can be used as an accurate prognostic tool for diabetic patients.  They say this could help those at risk of heart problems get treatment earlier. 

"Whole-body MRI may help in identifying patients who are at very high risk for future events and require intensified treatment or observation," Bamberg said. "Conversely, the absence of any changes on whole-body MRI may reassure diabetic patients that their risk for a heart attack, stroke or other major cardiac or cerebrovascular event is low."

Researchers said that whole-body MRI has other advantages over current methods of determining heart attack risk.

"Other established and valuable tools, such as myocardial perfusion imaging or computed tomography (CT) for quantification of coronary calcification, are generally limited to cardiac evaluation due to their associated risk profiles," Bamberg said. "Also, MRI provides unique insights into soft tissue pathology, including cerebral and vascular changes, such as restriction of blood flow to the brain."

"Our study provides preliminary evidence that the technique may be beneficial for risk stratification in patients with diabetes," he added. "We anticipate that emerging study findings in different diabetic cohorts will provide additional scientific basis to establish whole-body MRI as a screening modality."

The findings are published in the journal Radiology

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