A new way to predict hidden heart risks

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Researchers at Northwestern University have made a big step forward in heart health.

They’ve created a new way to figure out if someone might be at risk of getting an aortic aneurysm. This condition is severe and often doesn’t show signs until too late.

The team examined how blood moves in our main blood vessel, the aorta. They noticed that sometimes the walls of this vessel shake a bit, like a flag in the wind.

This shaking can be a sign of trouble. If the blood flow is smooth, the aorta is likely fine. But if there’s a lot of shaking, the aorta might grow abnormally and even burst in the future.

They named this shaking the “flutter instability parameter” (FIP). It’s a fancy way of saying they can measure how much the aorta wall shakes.

They can figure out someone’s FIP by using a special MRI scan. This has accurately predicted if someone will have aneurysm problems up to three years in advance.

If doctors know someone has a high risk, they can give them medicines or suggest lifestyle changes. This could stop the aorta from getting dangerously big.

The study got published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering just recently. The idea is to catch these aneurysms early. Usually, people don’t know they have them. They’re called “silent killers” because they can suddenly burst, and that’s often deadly.

Famous people like sports journalist Grant Wahl and actors John Ritter and Lucille Ball had this problem. It’s sudden and almost always fatal if it happens outside a hospital.

In the past, doctors could only guess if an aneurysm would get worse. They’d check the aorta’s size and some other risk factors. They’d do regular scans to see if it’s growing. If it got too big, they’d do surgery. But that’s risky, too.

The Northwestern team, including experts like Professor Neelesh A. Patankar and Dr. Tom Zhao, worked hard to understand the physics behind this problem. They discovered that it’s a warning sign when the aorta wall starts shaking more than usual.

To calculate the FIP, they looked at blood pressure, the size and stiffness of the aorta, the stress on its wall, and the pulse rate. They found that the less stiff the aorta is, the more at risk it is.

This was a surprise because people usually think a stiff aorta is a bad sign. But it’s the opposite – a growing aorta is less stiff, and that’s when it starts to shake.

They tested this new method with MRI data from over 200 sick and healthy people. They gave each person a personal FIP score. A score below zero meant the aorta was likely okay. Above zero indicated a risk of abnormal growth and possible bursting.

Their predictions were correct 98%, which is good. They think this FIP method could also help understand other heart problems and find the best ways to prevent aneurysms from worsening.

This research could be a big deal in helping doctors keep our hearts healthy.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies that herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm, and how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies that apple juice could benefit your heart health, and results showing yogurt may help lower the death risks in heart disease.

The research findings can be found in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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