At Palo Alto Medical Foundation, part of the Sutter Health network, our doctors are at the forefront of heart care with the use of a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. One of only a handful of such machines in the world, the cardiac MRI helps physicians diagnose coronary artery disease and other heart conditions without surgery.
Our cardiac MRI machine provides a far more accurate picture of the heart than a traditional MRI. It can capture the heart beating in real time by imaging up to 50 frames per second in a sequence triggered by an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine. These allow doctors and technicians to see the coronary arteries in enough detail to determine whether plaque accumulation or blockages have occurred.
“The cardiac MRI give us a full, three-dimensional look at the heart and blood vessels — all without surgery," says Terry Tye, manager of PAMF's cardiac lab. "Its ability to provide highly accurate, non-invasive diagnosis of coronary artery disease is groundbreaking."
The machine reduces the number of patients who undergo coronary angiography, an invasive procedure in which a catheter tube is threaded through a vein into the heart and used to determine if blood flow is restricted or blocked. This is particularly important for the nearly 35 percent of patients whose heart function subjects them to greater risks in surgery, as well as for patients with kidney disease, who should not be exposed to the dye used in angiography.
Cardiac MRI also helps physicians determine the extent of muscle damage following a heart attack and diagnose other conditions such as valvular heart disease. PAMF cardiologist Bob Hu, M.D., one of the world's foremost specialists in noninvasive cardiac imaging, worked closely with manufacturer General Electric to customize the cardiac MRI machine to PAMF's specifications. He says the machine is incredibly precise and accurate.
“Because cardiac MRI is so good at distinguishing between soft tissues, it is ideal for identifying the subtle differences between normal and abnormal heart muscles," Hu says.
The cardiac MRI machine is housed in a specially-constructed facility at PAMF.