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Piedmont Athens Offers New, Noninvasive Method for Detecting Blockage in the Heart

Athens, Ga. (June 8, 2021) – Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center is now offering a new, noninvasive method for diagnosing coronary artery disease or blockages in the heart. According to the American Heart Association, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

The method, called Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography (CCTA), is a heart imaging test used to diagnose a variety of heart conditions. Compared to the alternative, more standard method, CCTA is noninvasive and can be performed much faster with potentially less risk and discomfort, with no recovery time for patients.

“Piedmont is a national leader in CCTA quality and performs the most CCTAs in Georgia. We’re excited to bring this innovative diagnostic tool close to home to the Athens community,” said Matthew Crim, M.D., cardiologist with Piedmont Heart Institute in Athens. “CCTA provides important information, such as the presence and extent of plaque in the coronary arteries, and is a fast, noninvasive option for our patients.”

In addition, Piedmont was the first to offer fractional flow reserve CT (FFR CT), which uses information from the CCTA to create a digital 3D model of the patient’s coronary arteries and uses computer algorithms to simulate blood flow and assess the impact of coronary artery blockages on the heart.

“The models that are produced by HeartFlow FFR CT analysis are amazingly detailed and provide great information on the functional significance of stenosis in a patient’s arteries,” said Dr. Venkat Polsani, Piedmont Heart Chief of Cardiovascular Imaging. “This is game-changing technology for our patients and for all of Piedmont’s cardiologists and physicians.”

The CCTA method that Piedmont Athens Regional now offers is used as a noninvasive option for detecting blockages in the heart. CCTA uses advanced CT technology, along with contrast material (dye) given through an IV, to get high-resolution, 3-D pictures of the moving heart and vessels. These images can show whether plaque or calcium deposits are present in the artery walls, among other things.

Prior to CCTA, one of the most common heart imaging procedures, called cardiac catheterization, has been the standard method for diagnosing coronary artery disease, according to Joseph Poole, M.D., Ph. D, cardiologist with Piedmont Heart Institute in Athens.

Cardiac catheterization is an invasive method that involves inserting a long, slender tube, called a catheter, through a blood vessel in the leg or arm, which is then guided into the heart with the aid of a special x-ray machine. The average catheterization procedure lasts about 30 minutes, and the preparation and recovery time can add several hours to the procedure.

“CCTA provides similar diagnostic information for our patients, but does it without inserting a catheter into the high pressure artery, and in half the time,” said Dr. Poole. “Other than a simple needle stick to place an IV line, these exams are fast, easy and painless for our patients.”

Patients interested in the CCTA method who’d like to determine whether CCTA is right for them should visit a cardiologist for guidance.

For more information about Piedmont Athens Regional’s heart care services, visit 

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