"Cardiologists utilize a vast array of very sophisticated noninvasive and invasive testing [methods] to not only assess a patient's risk of experiencing sudden arrhythmic cardiac death, but to also distinguish areas of potentially viable heart muscle from scar tissue," Gunsburg added.
Looking for heart wall scarring with newer, more advanced MRI scanning is one more tool that might be used, he said. Patients should discuss this and other approaches with their doctor, to maximize their cardiovascular care.
Another expert agreed.
"The ability to see fibrosis can actually [help] risk-stratify patients with cardiomyopathy," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. She believes the technique may "allow us to more aggressively prevent sudden cardiac death."
In a separate study, published in the same issue of JAMA, researchers led by Dr. Dipan Shah, of Duke University Medical Center, said they've made an encouraging discovery about the recovery of damaged heart tissue.
In the past, it's been assumed that a thinning of the heart muscle was an unhealthy, irreversible part of coronary artery disease for many patients. But in their study of 201 heart patients with such thinning, the Duke team found that about 18 percent had either limited or no tissue scarring, and this lack of scarring was associated with better heart muscle function.
This may mean that heart wall "thinning is potentially reversible and therefore should not be considered a permanent state," Shah's team wrote.
For her part, Steinbaum said the finding was encouraging.
"Cardiovascular [MRI] has now shown that this thinning might not be a sign of a scar, and may actually represent heart muscle that could recover function if treated," she said. "With this greater ability to visualize the heart muscle after a heart attack, we can now treat patients more th
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