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Cardiac MRI to diagnose valve disease

For patients with heart valve disease, echocardiography is the diagnostic modality of choice. However, cardiac MRI technology can be helpful to diagnose complex cases and to develop effective treatment plans for patients with certain conditions. Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a noninvasive test that utilizes radio waves, magnets and a computer to create both moving and still pictures of the heart.

Digital images from the test are then reviewed on a computer to assist in diagnosis and treatment planning. Unlike other imaging tests, MRI does not pose a cancer risk because it does not use ionizing radiation.

“Cardiac MRI is generally used only if we can’t obtain answers to specific questions by other modalities,” says Sarah Rinehart, M.D., the medical director of cardiovascular CT and MRI at Piedmont Heart Institute. MRI results can complement or help explain results from ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans and/or X-rays.

The benefits of cardiac MRI

“Typically with valvular heart disease, we don’t just look at one piece of information, we look at several during planning and the procedure,” explains Dr. Rinehart. “One of the strengths of the MRI is not only do we get the squeezing of the heart, but we see how large it is in a very accurate way.”

This helps cardiologists identify the correct timing for valve replacement. Cardiac MRI technology allows physicians to:

  • Clearly see scar tissue, such as damage from a heart attack or congenital heart defects.
  • Determine if an interventional cardiologist or surgeon needs to bypass a certain area in the heart because of scarring.
  • Determine if it is worthwhile to open an artery.
  • Have a better understanding of the heart’s function, rather than just a visual estimation on ultrasound.

Dr. Rinehart says cardiac MRI is especially useful for treating valve disease patients with complex congenital heart defects because their anatomy is difficult to view on ultrasound. While MRI takes longer, it provides more comprehensive information. In addition to diagnosing valve disease, cardiac MRI can diagnose:

  • Congenital heart defects (defects with which a patient is born)
  • Heart failure
  • Damage caused by a heart attack
  • Pericarditis (inflammation in the membrane surrounding the heart)
  • Cardiac tumors

Piedmont Heart Institute

A dedicated cardiac MR scanner and the expert staff at Piedmont Heart Institute provide an advantage to patients, says Dr. Rinehart. Piedmont Heart Institute physicians and staff have dedicated training in a range of subspecialized areas, which allows them to provide a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for patients with complex conditions. For more information on cardiac MRI, visit Piedmont Heart Institute.

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