Houston's VA Hospital First to Use New Cardiac Diagnostic Technology

Houston's VA hospital is the first VA hospital in the nation to use ICE to diagnose and treat veterans needing specialized cardiac care. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports.

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That's not ice as in frozen water but I-C-E or intra-cardiac echocardiography.

"It's like an ultra-sound that's mounted in a catheter that we put inside the heart."

Dr. David Paniagua is co-director of the Houston VA hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. He says the sound waves produce images of the heart the same way a regular echocardiogram does, however ICE allows that image to come from inside the heart. Getting that view of certain heart problems can allow doctors to fix them in the Cath Lab instead of undergoing surgery. For example patients with a hole in the wall that separates the hearts chambers.

"When you have this problem you may need surgery to close this hole and prevent complications. This is done with open heart surgery. In some cases we can close it using some devices that are delivered with catheter techniques. The use of the intracardiac echo allows us to asses which ones we can do in the cath lab with a procedure which is overnight instead of having open heart surgery."

Dr. Paniagua says intracardiac echocardiography has better detail and resolution that regular echocardiograms and so doctors can make a more accurate diagnosis. Because it is less invasive and requires less anesthesia it also can be used, when appropriate, in patients with conditions that would make them poor candidates for major surgery. Additionally, use of this imaging tool also reduces the fluoroscopic expose time for both the patient and the medical team.

"When you are in the cath lab you have to give x-rays to the patient to see the structure that you need to visualize. With the use of ultrasound the amount of radiation is decreased because you can visualize the structures easier with this while you do the procedure, so limiting your fluoroscopic time."

The VA say no other system currently available can offer real-time, direct visualization of cardiac structures during procedures like ICE does.

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