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New test pinpoints dangerous heart problems

October 20, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A man's risk for sudden cardiac arrest is 1 in 8. A woman's is 1 in 24. Now there's a test that's more powerful than the traditional stress test, pinpointing dangerous heart problems once considered too small to see. Freddie Holmes loves the serenity of country life, but for this heart disease patient, living miles from a major hospital means a medical emergency could be deadly.

Holmes found security and peace of mind by having a heart defibrillator implanted. If her heart stops, the device zaps it back into rhythm.

"If I didn't have this, something could happen. By the time someone gets to me, I probably wouldn't be here anymore," she said.

Holmes may have never known she needed a defibrillator had her doctor not suggested she take a T-wave test.

"Mrs. Holmes had no known heart disease but was having episodes of passing out," said electrophysiologist Dr. Mary Olsovsky. "We decided to do a T-wave alternans test to further evaluate the electrical instability or stability of her heart, and that was abnormal."

The T-wave test is similar to a stress test, but it uses specialized leads that can pick up electrical changes in the heart that are 1,000 times too small to be seen on an EKG.

"T-wave alternans is by no means definitive, but it gives us another tool to put on that balancing scale," said Dr. Olsovsky.

Holmes is grateful the test told her something everyone else missed.

"I look at myself, I have a very active lifestyle, I eat right, I exercise, I never would have dreamed in a million years that I would have a heart problem," she said.

The T-wave test helped her take steps to boost her odds, protect her heart, and find peace of mind.

Medicare pays for the test, along with a growing number of private insurers. About 300,000 people in the U.S. die from sudden cardiac death every year without warning signs.


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