Bleeding hearts

January 28, 2009 by  

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Have you ever seen a bleeding heart? Literary, I mean? Up till now, many of us use the term “bleeding heart” figuratively to mean “a person who is excessively sympathetic towards other people.” A real softie, in other words. It could also refer to a plant (Dicentra sp. ) with heart-shaped white flowers with a red center

But hearts really do bleed and the amount of bleeding can indicate the extent of heart damage after a heart attack.

Heart attacks or myocardial infarction in doctor speak occurs when a blood vessel (an artery) transporting blood to the heart gets blocked, cutting off blood supply to the heart muscles. The clear the blockage, metal implants called stents are inserted into the artery. However, it has been observed that bleeding in the heart muscles can occur once the heart start pumping again.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London have captured images of bleeding hearts. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, they took images of hearts of 15 patients who suffered from heart attacks of different severity.

“Analysis of the MRI scans revealed that the amount of bleeding correlated with how much damage the heart muscle had sustained. Patients who had suffered a large heart attack, where a lot of the heart muscle was damaged, had a lot of bleeding into the heart muscle compared with those whose heart attack was relatively small.”

The significance of heart bleeding has been poorly understood. These recent findings can help doctors and researchers in figuring out the bleeding, how it can be prevented and minimize the damage to the heart muscles.

According to Medline Plus

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive method of taking pictures of the body and the internal organs. Unlike x-rays and computed tomographic (CT) scans, which use radiation, MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves. Each single MRI image is called a slice. One MRI test can produce many different slices. The researchers were able to view the area of bleeding in the heart because of the magnetic effects of iron, a metal which is present in the blood.

The researchers hope that this kind of imaging will be used alongside other tests to create a fuller picture of a patient’s condition and their chances of recovery. The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the Department of Health, UK.

Photo credit: MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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