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Whole-Body MRI Detects Early Vascular Disease in Low-Risk Patients

Imaging the entire cardiovascular system spots abnormally narrow vessels missed by single-site techniques.

By
Janelle Weaver, Contributor
Friday, June 8, 2018

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Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries, potentially leading to serious problems such as heart attack, stroke or even death. This disease can affect the whole body, but current techniques for early plaque detection are limited to one cardiovascular site.

A study published in the June issue of Radiology shows that whole-body MR angiography detects early atherosclerotic disease, which would have been missed by techniques that assess only a single vascular site. Whole-body MR angiography is a systematic approach for imaging the entire vascular tree to stratify and quantify cardiovascular disease. The technique is highly accurate at detecting abnormally narrow blood vessels and can be used to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease, the presence of coronary artery disease, and both single and recurrent cardiovascular events.

All of the 1,513 study participants had a low to intermediate risk of cardiovascular disease and no clinical signs of cardiovascular disease. When the researchers examined them with whole-body MR angiography, they saw that even though 95 percent of their vessels appeared normal, nearly half of the subjects had at least one abnormally narrow blood vessel, and 27 percent had more than one. The disease was distributed relatively evenly throughout the cardiovascular system, highlighting the advantage of using whole-body MR angiography over single-site techniques.

According to the authors, this study is the first to evaluate contrast-enhanced whole-body MR angiography in a large population free from clinically apparent cardiovascular disease. Given that atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery, the detection of early signs of disease using whole-body MR angiography could lead to effective interventions for preventing medical emergencies.

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