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Small device offers look at inner heart health

January 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A powerful new diagnostic tool is coming to your doctor's office soon. A tiny high-tech device that's so small, you could put it in your pocket, is helping heart patients.If you've ever watched "Star Trek," you may have noticed that in science fiction doctors practice medicine using tiny devices to find out what's going on inside the body.

Well, the technology of the future is already in some doctor's offices. A device the size of smart phone can instantly tell doctors exactly what's going on with your heart.

Congestive heart-failure patient Clyde Davenport's life revolves around the small stuff.

So it's fitting his doctor now uses one of the world's smallest ultrasound machines to check his heart.

Beyond the standard stethoscope usage, the Vscan gives doctors a glimpse inside the heart.

"It clearly has taken out some of the guesswork," said Dr. Anthony DeMaria, UC San Diego.

DeMaria carries it with him all the time, viewing the size, shape and function of the heart.

"One of the major metrics in terms of heart disease is how well the heart pumps and how much blood it pumps and it's difficult, almost impossible, to get that information from a physical examination, but now with the handheld ultrasound device we can in fact see the heart and see exactly how well it pumps," said DeMaria.

DeMaria says this won't replace traditional, larger imaging devices. But it will give doctors an easy way to test patients as soon as possible and see any problems. That's good news since heart disease causes 26 percent of deaths in the U.S.

After three heart attacks, 14 stents and a defibrillator, a quick pulmonary "peek-a-boo" gives Davenport confidence that his heart will keep running.

Dr. DeMaria says pocket ultrasounds are designed to spot possible problems, not diagnose them.

In addition, they're strictly a screening device and shouldn't replace traditional EKGs. One handheld device costs $7,900, compared to about $5,900 for an EKG unit.

With new technology, one problem is training medical staff to use it correctly.