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Super-scan spots heart problems in women faster

A breakthrough scanning technique for women’s hearts has been found which could detect problems more quickly.

Doctors can often miss female cardiac issues because they do not show up like those suffered by men.

But a new in-depth scan displays the unique differences in women’s hearts, particularly in older age.

Experts used ‘radiomics’ image analysis with a high-powered computer more often used in cancer diagnosis.

It revealed men have a more coarse heart muscle with a larger surface. Women appeared to have more tissue damage, scarring or stiffness in the muscle.

This may explain why females are more likely to suffer a specific type of heart failure and could help identify those at risk. 

Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, lead researcher of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘If the differences which we have seen are linked to specific heart diseases then we could develop a blueprint to diagnose women, and men too, more quickly and accurately.

‘We could also give a healthy person a prediction of their chances of developing problems.’

Scientists did MRI scans on the hearts of 309 men and 358 women aged 45 to 74. They then used ‘radiomics’ to analyse the main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. Older females’ heart muscles appeared brighter in scans, which may indicate damage and stiffness.

This could explain why women more often suffer heart failure where it pumps normally but cannot get enough blood around.

At least half of the cases in females are of this type.

It may also be caused by the muscles in women’s organ having a smaller surface area than men, which was also seen in the cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) scans.

As conditions like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol cause changes in the heart, the scans could be used to try to detect people’s risk of these problems too.

Experts believe men and women’s organs are different due to different levels of hormones.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, of the British Heart Foundation which funded the research, said: ‘CMR scans give us a wealth of information about the heart.’

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