This new technology could help treat patients at risk for arrhythmia

Melissa Brigham is a surgeon and physician-scientist who works at Boston Medical Center. In 2016, she became the first pediatric cardiac surgeon to perform a technology that is changing the world of medicine — the Charite heart scan.

What is the Charite scan?

In 2014, Germany’s Charite University Medical Center began using the Charite Ceramic Coreheart Scan to perform a procedure called ECG Conditional Cardiac Arrhythmia. Traditionally, the heart beats every five minutes when resting, to generate blood flow to the circulatory system. The Charite scan allows the heart to suddenly contract, creating a very clear picture of the heart’s beat patterns.

Dr. Brigham is the first pediatric cardiologist to perform the Charite scan in the United States. She first developed the diagnosis with Dr. Jochen von Wemhoff, who led the pre-clinical studies for Charite. The 3D images provided by the Charite scan can be highly useful in developing personalized treatment for patients. They can also be used in enabling the safe correction of abnormal heart beats in people with heart failure.

Dr. Brigham says this technology could even help predict which surgical candidates will benefit from a particular heart procedure. If a person is at risk for cardiac arrhythmia and is not experiencing any symptoms, for example, he or she can have a heart surgery without having to go into cardiac arrest. However, those people at risk for arrhythmia should have the test performed so that a doctor knows which parts of the heart are functioning properly, before performing the procedure.

What is the goal?

The goal of the Charite scan is to answer the question, “What is the heart doing in a moment of reflection?” It is trying to look at where a heart is from a real-time perspective instead of looking at it from a perfect distance (like in a CT scan), just so doctors and patients can have a more useful picture of what the heart is actually doing.

Is the Charite scan used in other hospitals?

In fact, there are more than 40 similar studies in over 80 countries. The Charite is one of many new technology in this field. Other hospitals also use the scanner to evaluate patient health and attempt to identify patients at risk for arrhythmia.

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When should I consult with a doctor after seeing the Charite scan?

If you are not in the care of a heart specialist and your physician refers you for a CT scan of the chest or abdomen, consult with an interventional cardiologist. It is much more reassuring to learn that the test resulted in abnormalities for someone who was considered perfectly healthy. It is a much less scary finding than what someone would normally get after going into cardiac arrest.

Can I be a candidate for the scan if I already have an episode of atrial fibrillation or if my heart was in the cath-lab for problems like coronary artery disease?

Yes. First, it is important to obtain a rapid test for ARFH that a physician could evaluate in one test. If that is not possible, just before going in for an Arrhythmia Action Plan in the cath lab, complete an ECG Conditional Cardiac Arrhythmia test.

Next, make sure you have a plan for arrhythmia monitoring after hearing the results of the Charite scan. Once you get to the cath lab, keep in contact with your cardiologist and exercise a plan together.

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