American Heart Association Responds to ‘Nightline’s’ Bill Weir’s Heart Disease Story

Jan 19, 2012 2:34pm

As part of an ABC network-wide series on Dr. David Agus’ new book, “The End of Illness,” “Nightline” anchor Bill Weir underwent the doctor’s recommended full body CT scan and discovered he had heart disease, which left millions of viewers wondering if they should get the scan too. 

Agus, who is one of the world’s leading oncologists and treated Steve Jobs’ cancer, firmly believes that advanced technologies currently used in monitoring diseases should become standards in medical care, including the full body CT scan. These scans are usually reserved for patients with advanced diseases, such as Stage III cancer, and several medical professionals and health organizations, including the American Heart Association, responded to our story to explain why they do not recommend full body CT scans for everyone.

In a follow-up interview,  Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, the president of the American Heart Association, told Weir that the AHA recommends scans for coronary heart disease patients with “immediate risk,” meaning up to a 20 percent chance of having a heart attack, and based on the information Weir provided, the anchor would have been considered low risk.

“We probably wouldn’t have recommended that you get a scan at this time, particularly if you don’t have any symptoms of coronary heart disease,” Tomaselli told Weir. “There may have been a bit of a concern with respect to your particular calcium scan, but I will also say that the fact that a plaque itself has calcium, that doesn’t mean that it is what we call a ‘vulnerable plaque,’ that is it doesn’t mean that is the area that is going to give you a problem.”

Aside from the enormous cost of the scan, which can run upwards of $1,300 and isn’t covered by most insurance, Tomaselli said the full body CT scan comes with potentially serious risks.

“The risks include radiation exposure that you get in the process of getting one of these scans,” he said.

When asked about implementing new technology into standard medical procedures, Tomaselli again stressed the importance of making sure the technology won’t do more harm than good and that it takes time to test new gadgets before making them standard in medical care.

“We know that there are a lot of gaps in our understanding of disease, in diagnosing disease and managing disease, and with those gaps, we do need to scientifically approach the problems with the development of new technology and new ideas and new understanding of disease mechanism to make sure that if we’re exposing people to testing or to therapy that that exposure, the benefit of that exposure outweighs the risk,” Tomaselli said.

As an added recommendation, Tomaselli said a large part of preventing heart disease has to do with living a healthy lifestyle: Eating the right foods, not smoking, having a steady exercise routine and, getting your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked.

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