If you're having chest pains, an advanced type of CT scan can quickly rule out a heart attack. New research suggests this might be good for hospitals, but not necessarily for you.
These heart scans cut time spent in the hospital but didn't save money, the study found. They also prompted more tests and questionable treatments and gave relatively large doses of radiation to people at such low risk that they probably didn't need major tests at all.
There is no evidence that adding these tests saved lives or found more heart attacks, wrote Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco in an editorial. Her commentary accompanied the study in today's New England Journal of Medicine. And since radiation from the scans can raise the long-term risk of developing cancer, doctors "may legitimately ask whether the tests did more harm than good," she wrote.
None of this changes the advice to seek help quickly if you're having chest pain or other signs of a heart attack. Any delay raises the risk of permanent heart damage.
But more than 90 percent of the 6 million people who go to hospitals each year in the United States with chest pain have indigestion, stress, muscle strain or some other problem — not heart disease.