The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: The Detection Gap

You've heard of the Generation Gap, the Income Gap, the Technology Gap, the Gender Gap, and the Achievement Gap.

How about the Detection Gap ?

Haven't heard of it? That's the gap between coronary heart disease detected by conventional methods widely practiced in the community and the real prevalence of the disease.

The standard approach to coronary heart disease detection is a relatively simple formula. One of three things are sought:

1) Symptoms of heart disease like chest pain or breathlessness.
2) An abnormal EKG or abnormal stress test.
3) A catastrophe like heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

By this equation, the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that 36% of American men and women have coronary disease.

However, we say the number is more like 48%. That's the number we arrive at when we ask: How many men and women have CT heart scan scores above zero?

The difference is the Detection Gap. Though only around 12%, it amounts to millions of people. The problem is that, by the conventional approach to detection of heart disease, you often don't know you have it until you're lying on a hospital gurney being wheeled off to a major procedure. Or your friends, family or neighbors find your body.

If heart disease is detected by a CT heart scan, it tends to be early, before catastrophe strikes. You can use tools like niacin, vitamin D, flaxseed, etc., all the components of the Track Your Plaque approach.

If heart disease is detected by waiting for the appearance of symptoms, then a stress test (usually nuclear) is followed by a heart catheterization, stents, bypass, etc. So there's more than a Detection Gap. There's also a difference in the sorts of therapies chosen. There's certainly a difference in cost.

In my view, there is no rational reason not to close the Detection Gap. While CT heart scan scores aren't perfect, they're damn close. The Detection Gap could be closed to around 2%. We'd also save billions of dollars.