Cardiac MRI: Hope for Ailing Hearts

At age 48, Ben arrived at the Sky Ridge Emergency Department with severe chest pain. He had a history of heart disease, and testing that day confirmed that his pain was in fact due to a moderate heart attack. Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) also revealed that despite some damage, his heart tissue was still alive — making him an excellent candidate for a procedure to restore the flow of blood to his heart. Ben received cardiac bypass surgery two days later. His heart function recovered significantly, and he is back to his favorite activities today.

Advances in Cardiac Imaging Help Determine Best Course of Treatment after Heart Attack

In some people, a heart attack leaves portions of heart muscle completely dead due to oxygen loss. Thanks to recent advances in cardiac imaging, physicians have discovered that in about half of heart attack patients, heart tissue may be recoverable. "When the muscle is viable after a heart attack, procedures such as stents may successfully restore the heart’s function by creating new channels for blood to flow," says Jason Kelly, MD, Chair, Department of Radiology.

Discerning the viability of patient’s hearts may be accomplished by cardiac magnetic resonance imaging. Dr. Kelly explains, "If the muscle is dead, we don’t want to put in a stent or expose the patient to the risks associated with surgery," says Dr. Kelly. "But if the tissue is recoverable, patients benefit greatly from revascularization. Cardiac MRI helps us decide which course should be pursued."

Cardiac MRI

Cardiac MRI is a non-invasive test that produces images of the heart while it is beating. In addition to determining whether heart tissue is viable after heart attacks, MRI is commonly used to:

  • Discern structural abnormalities such as congenital defects, or diseases that damage the heart.
  • Differentiate tumors or masses in the heart (such as myxoma) from blood clots. 
  • Identify the presence of aneurysms that may occur after heart attack. 
  • Diagnose heart conditions such as hypertrophy, valve abnormalities and other problems.