Cutting Edge Medicine: New Look Inside the Heart

While both procedures use a contrast dye to help doctors detect the blockage through images, OCT uses a larger burst of dye in a shorter amount of time than intravascular ultrasound, said Costa. This may contribute to the more precise imaging and the less pain some patients may experience.

According to Costa, unlike other procedures, OCT provides better image resolution of stents after they've been placed in the heart. The images allow doctors to measure the thickness of the artery linings, measure the thin caps on plaque buildups in the arteries, observe how tissues grow around stents and track over time the dissolution of bioabsorbable stents that dissolve over time.

But the technology does not come without risk, many experts said. For patients who already have advanced kidney disease, the contrast dye could cause additional kidney damage, Costa said.

According to Moses, the same risks apply for OCT as for other heart imaging procedures.

"There's always a risk of manipulating the artery," Moses said. "If you're just looking at the artery, there are a few patients who may get a clot or spasms."

Since there are no set guidelines for doctors to identify the right patients for the technology, each patient should be evaluated individually, Moses said.

Even though many experts agreed that more research is needed to better understand the potential risks of OCT, Moses said the technology could improve the way blocked vessels are identified.

"We're getting such phenomenal fine detail," Moses said. "We will learn so much about atherosclerosis as a disease."

Disclosure: Costa has received research grants and consulting honoraria from LightLab and Cordis/Johnson & Johnson.

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