SCOTS heart specialists are using artificial intelligence to reduce the risk of heart attacks in a medical first that will improve outcomes for patients.

The technology can automatically detect how much fatty deposits and calcium have built up in the arteries – high levels are the biggest cause of heart attacks.

It is being used during Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) catheterisation, which allows cardiologists to see inside the arteries of patients for more accurate placement of stents, which are used to treat blockages.

When excess calcium accumulates in the blood and combines with cholesterol it forms plaque which adheres to the walls of arteries.

These deposits can cause partial or complete blockage. It also hardens the walls of the artery.

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OCT is routinely used to take images of the eyes of patients with glaucoma but is now increasingly being used to treat patients with heart disease.

Dr Stuart Watkins and Dr Margaret McEntegart, consultant cardiologists at the Golden Jubilee Hospital, are now using the most advanced catheter on patients and a live recording of one of their latest cases will be used to educate cardiologists worldwide.

Dr Watkins said: “We would normally use OCT in patients with stent failure, patients with calcified arteries and patients with complex disease.


“The importance of that is, that if you do have calcified arteries, it’s important to pick that up and important to know how bad it is.

“Stents are little metal frames that hold arteries open so if you stick a stent in a calcified artery it won’t fully expand to its proper size. 

“If it’s under-expanded, there is a risk that stent will fail over time which could give you a heart attack or kill you or over time it could re-narrow.

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“OpStar has new design features which make it easier to insert into heart arteries. It also has a new lens which gives us brighter, clearer images of the arteries we treat. 

“Using this together with artificial intelligence technology, we have a significantly improved imaging platform for looking inside arteries and treating patients. 

“Before, our OCT assessment of arteries was very manual and you had to go in and do everything yourself, but now using this new software, we automatically get some of the information we need, speeding up the process.

“We can use it to determine the size of the blood vessels, what size of stent to put in and also determine the level of calcification and what we need to do to the artery to treat it, before we put the stent in.

“We chose the case of an older patient who had very calcified arteries with extensive heart disease and we were able to treat this patient effectively with an excellent outcome for them.”

Heart specialists already check for calcification using CT imaging, which can predict if you have coronary artery disease but it has limitations.

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“It doesn’t tell you anything about the severity of the calcification,” said Dr Watkins. 

“The OCT takes pictures from inside the artery, giving very, very detailed pictures.

“The majority of our procedures are done using a local anaesthetic, usually with a little bit of sedation and we do it all through the right arm, in the radial artery.”

A landmark study published earlier this year found that the number of heart attacks has fallen by 74 per cent in Scotland as a direct result of smoking rates more than halving and improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The smoking ban and increased uptake of cholesterol testing and statin drugs are said to have contributed to a dramatic reduction in the incidence of Scotland’s biggest killer over the past 25 years.

Researchers said the figures equated to 42,000 heart attacks being prevented or delayed. The number of strokes fell by 68% over the same period.

Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce a ban on smoking in public places in 2006 under Labour’s Jack McConnell. Only the Tories voted against the ban.