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Women May Be Getting Unneeded Heart Imaging Tests

A push to recognize and treat heart attacks in women has unintended consequence, expert says

FRIDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- Women are more likely than men to be referred for unnecessary nuclear stress tests, a new study contends.

A nuclear stress test, also called myocardial perfusion imaging, is an imaging technique that measures blood flow to the heart muscle at rest and during periods of stress, such as exercise. The test can detect heart disease, but it's expensive and exposes people to radiation.

U.S. researchers analyzed 314 nuclear stress tests to determine whether they met so-called appropriate use criteria, guidelines set by the American College of Cardiology Foundation to help doctors decide whether such testing would be beneficial. Nearly all of the tests had been ordered for chest pain.

They found that 263 of the tests were appropriate, 34 were inappropriate and 17 were uncertain. Women accounted for 68 percent of inappropriate tests and 82 percent of uncertain tests, the study found.

Historically, women with symptoms of cardiovascular disease have received fewer stress tests and cardiac catheterizations than men, according to the researchers, but the past decade has seen a push for more testing of women. The findings of this study suggest that "in our fear of missing heart disease, we are testing too may women indiscriminately," Dr. Aarti Gupta, a cardiology fellow at Rhode Island Hospital and the study's lead author, said in a news release from Lifespan health system.

The researchers also found that primary care doctors ordered the most nuclear stress tests. However, 74 percent of their tests were deemed appropriate, compared with 92 percent of those ordered by cardiologists. For female patients, cardiologists' stress tests were considered appropriate 86 percent of the time, compared with 71 percent for primary care doctors.

"The findings indicate a continuing need for education among primary care providers for appropriate test ordering, particularly for women," Gupta said.

The study was published online in the Journal of Nuclear Cardiology.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about nuclear stress tests.


SOURCES: Lifespan, news release, June 8, 2011

Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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