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Nuclear Science: A Window to Heart Disease

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 50,000 Canadians are diagnosed with heart failure every year.  It is estimated that half of all Canadians will be touched by heart failure, costing the health care system close to $3 billion annually. Globally, heart disease is responsible for over 30% of all deaths.

Enter cardiac nuclear medicine.

Instead of performing surgery, doctors, by using small amounts of radioactive material, can look inside the human body to diagnose diseases like heart disease. This noninvasive procedure involves injecting small amounts of radiation and looking at the heart at a molecular level, providing accurate and early diagnosis, which is key to treating and saving lives.

Argentina is increasing investment in nuclear medicine to help patients with cardiovascular disease, as recently highlighted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Through a collaboration between the Argentinean government and the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), the IAEA is offering up training and equipment in order to provide increased access to nuclear medicine services.

“The multimillion-euro investment involves building six new centres across the country that will offer high-quality nuclear medicine and radiotherapy services. The new centres will be operating in the Argentinean provinces of Río Gallegos, Río Negro, Santiago del Estero, Formosa, Entre Ríos and La Pampa,” according to the IAEA.

There are two different types of tests that can be used to scan the heart. The main difference between the two is the type of radiotracer used. In a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan, positrons work with a tracer to take pictures of a patient’s heart. The pictures can detect blood flow; identify heart attack scars; and even detect if arteries are narrowed.

The second test that relies on nuclear medicine is a SPECT (Single Photo Emission Computed Tomography) scan.  It allows doctors to get a 3D image of a patients heart in order to determine overall heart health, including blood flow; whether or not a patient has had a heart attack; and to diagnose coronary artery disease or a build up of plaque inside the heart’s main arteries.

Investments in early cardiac detection and treatment are key. According to the World Health Organization (WHO); “Ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease and lower respiratory infections have remained the top killers during the past decade.” In Argentina, it is the leading cause of premature death.

Managing your diet, sleep and even stress levels can all lower a person’s risk for developing heart disease. Early detection can help to identify risks in time for treatment to save lives. Thanks to nuclear medicine this can be done. And before it’s too late.