TUESDAY, Feb. 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new, noninvasive test that measures how fast pulse waves travel down the heart's aorta could be a screening tool for heart disease.
According to Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Iftikhar Kullo, the aortic pulse wave velocity (aPWV) test is painless, takes only 10 to 15 minutes, and would likely be less expensive than other cardiac screening tests.
"About 40 percent of the American public is considered to be at moderate risk for heart disease. Nearly half the heart attacks come without warning, which means we need to do a better job of screening people. This test has that potential," Kullo said in a prepared statement.
In the procedure, doctors place a pencil-like device called a tonometer on the skin just over the patient's carotid artery in the neck and the femoral artery in the upper thigh.
The tonometer measures the pressure wave inside the artery. That information is fed into a computer, which calculates aPWV.
A slower pulse wave indicates that the artery is more elastic and healthier, while a faster pulse wave suggests the artery is stiffer and less healthy.
The study of 401 people, aged 32 to 84, found that patients with stiffer arteries had a greater quantity of calcium in their coronary arteries, an indicator of plaque buildup in the arteries.
Kullo said the association between artery stiffness and coronary artery calcium (CAC) strengthens the case for using aPWV as a heart disease screening tool in different groups of patients, including adults with moderate risk, people with a family history of heart disease, and people with high blood pressure or kidney disease.
The American Heart Association outlines heart disease risk factors.