Chest pain? You may not need a CT scan
When there's searing pain ripping through your chest, it's pretty hard to remain calm.
If there's ANY chance you could be having a heart attack, you want to make a beeline for the emergency room -- STAT!
And once you're there, I'm sure you'll do anything to find out what's going on inside your heart.
But according to a new study, the CT scans that docs say will diagnose a heart attack are not just unnecessary... but they could also zap you with a toxic dose of radiation.
In the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, 1,000 patients who showed up in the ER with chest pain at nine different hospitals were randomly assigned to one of two protocols.
They received either a standard clinical evaluation -- including a physical exam, EKG, and blood test for troponin, a protein that's released when your heart suffers damage -- OR the same evaluation plus either a treadmill stress test or a CT scan.
Now, it should come as no surprise that patients who got the extra tests spent about eight hours longer in the hospital -- and racked up about $500 more in medical bills -- than those who got only the standard evaluation.
But the real kicker was that the extra stuff turned out to be time and money WASTED.
You see, those CT scans and treadmill trips didn't make diagnosing a heart attack any more accurate than the old bedside exam and blood test.
And those who received the extra tests fared no better than those given the standard evaluation during their follow-up exams a month later.
There was NO difference between the two groups in terms of who later returned to the ER... who went on to suffer a major cardiac event... or who needed bypass surgery.
But one thing did set the CT scan group apart from the rest: They were exposed to a boatload of radiation.
That's because CT scans can deliver dozens of times more radiation than a simple X-ray -- and studies have shown that it can "cook" your cells and damage their delicate DNA.
That means you could walk INTO the emergency room with chest pain... and walk OUT with a higher risk of cancer!
Instead, the gold standard for diagnosing a heart attack is the presence of troponin -- and the latest troponin blood tests are so sensitive that they may be all that's necessary.
But even a thorough bedside examination by a skilled physician will often reveal everything you need to know -- without radiation.