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Those with pacemakers must avoid MRI scans, but new technology could make that a thing of the past.

Alissa Lindsey March 19th, 2014

Since the beginning of the year, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first pacemakers to support full-body MRI scans, the Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City has implanted 80 patients with Medtronic Advisa or Revo SureScan pacing systems.

A pacemaker functions by causing the heart to beat normally through the use of electrical pulses, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website. The Medtronic pacemakers operate the same way as other pacemakers, but the new technology that allows for an MRI on any part of the body is what makes them unique, said Mark Harvey, a physician who specializes in abnormal heart rhythms at OHH.

Of the 1.5 million patients in the U.S. with pacemakers, approximately 200,000 per year are turned away from an MRI because of risks that include damage to the pacemaker or harm to the patient. Without an MRI scan, it becomes much more challenging for doctors to determine treatment types. However, with improved technology, Medtronic pacemakers can offer patients use of the diagnostic tool.

Erick Bravo, marketing manager for the hospital, explained that this technological advancement is an example of significant research.

“That [research] is something that’s a priority for our organization,” Bravo said. “We participate annually in more than 50 clinical trials. These advances happen because of that kind of research. It’s a priority to us, and we’re happy to be involved with it.”

MRI scans are used to diagnose and treat cancer, strokes and other diseases because the scans produced are intricate images of soft tissue, which includes organs, blood vessels, muscles, joints, tumors and areas of infection.

“As far as heart awareness, I think the main thing about this is that there are safe ways to treat slow heart rates,” Harvey said. “It’s also important that if people are experiencing symptoms of slow heart rates or find a slow heart rate, that’s something letting their doctor know so they can be evaluated.”

Symptoms of slow heart rates include fatigue, dizziness or passing out. Often, patients visit their family doctor complaining of fatigue or passing out and the family doctor refers them to the heart hospital.

Harvey said that at this time, an old, existing pacemaker cannot be upgraded to the new device. An MRI scan creates a magnetic field, and when that field comes into contact with old pacemaker leads, it can generate an electric current inside the patient’s heart and damage it.

In the future, it may be possible to exchange them. But this won’t be the case for all patients, as 50 to 70 percent of patients with pacemakers will need an MRI scan at some point.

“What we recommend is actually looking at each patient individually and determining, ‘Do you need an MRI device, or do you just need a regular pacemaker?’” he said.

For more information, visit jointhepacemakers.com.

 
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