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UVA Studies New Way to Assess Risk for Sudden Cardiac Death

Hypertropic cardiomyopathy is the most common genetic heart disease, affecting as many as one in every 200 people. It can cause the heart muscle to thicken and malfunction according to Dr. Christopher Kramer, chief of cardiovascular medicine at UVA.

Dr. Christopher Kramer heads cardiovascular medicine at UVA

“There is a risk of fast heart rhythms called ventricular tachycardia which can lead to sudden cardiac death,” he says.

But if doctors can catch the disease early, they may be able to prevent deaths.

“If you identify patients who are a high risk, then you would implant a cardioverter defibrillator which would potentially shock the patient out of that abnormal heart rhythm,” Kramer explains.

Screening often involves the use of a contrast agent and magnetic resonance imaging. Kramer and his colleagues here and in the UK have studied more than 270-hundred patients and come up with a new way to screen for scarring in the heart.The more scar you have, the more the risk of sudden cardiac death.

This new approach cuts the time and cost required to study the heart while providing a better image. Because it does not require the use of a contrasting agent – which can be hard on the kidneys – the new technology called virtual native enhancement could make more screening possible.

“It is a genetic disease,” says Kramer. “If it’s identified in one family member, we certainly want to screen for it in other family members.”

And, he adds, this is good news for people taking part in sports.

“Identifying this in athletes is of particular importance, and certainly at UVA all the athletes get screened to be sure that this is not a a problem, and NFL and NBA athletes get screened as well.”

Kramer says the university will soon begin a new study to see whether virtual native enhancement can help doctors identify the best candidates for bypass surgeries and implanting of stents.