PET scans, CT scans, MRIs and ECHOs-the list of high-tech imaging capabilities at Torrance Memorial Medical Center almost sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. Although the names may initially confuse (positron emission tomography, anyone?), the goal of these tests is simple-to provide doctors with detailed images of the inner workings of the body.
Imaging technology is an irreplaceable part of disease diagnosis and treatment, and advancements in the field have made it even more so. In the past decade, Torrance Memorial has seen phenomenal improvements in high-definition imaging, notes Benjamin Rosin, MD, head of cardiology. This means greatly improved care and less invasive procedures for patients.
For instance, cardiologists once needed to do a heart catheterization, where a tube is threaded from a blood vessel to the heart, in order to see how cardiac muscles and valves were working. Now they can do a non-invasive procedure called an echocardiogram, or ECHO, that is a two-dimensional sonogram of the heart. Torrance Memorial is also beginning to do three-dimensional echocardiograms.
Improvements in imaging have also facilitated early detection of heart disease. Coronary calcium scans show the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries-the more calcium, the more atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This test allows doctors to identify individuals at risk for heart disease and begin treatment, if necessary. This can delay or even prevent a heart attack from occurring.
Another heart-imaging test, Computerized Tomography Angiogram, or CT angiogram, actually shows the coronary arteries and the amount of narrowing. It allows cardiologists to visualize the coronary artery without having to insert a catheter into the heart. Although these scans use radiation to image the heart, recent advancements have dramatically reduced the radiation exposure, making these studies extremely safe. Torrance Memorial has the most modern equipment to accomplish this imaging, so the radiation exposure is next to nothing, notes Dr. Rosin.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another non-invasive means to construct pictures of the body and is especially useful for imaging soft tissue like the brain, muscles and heart. Torrance Memorial uses the 3 Tesla MRI, which is the most advanced MRI technology in the South Bay.
Dr. Rosin notes that MRIs have dramatically improved cardiologists' ability to assess and diagnose heart problems. They can provide critical information, such as visualizing how the muscles of the heart are working, assessing improvements in heart function and even identifying potential heart transplant patients.
Over at the endoscopy center and gastrointestinal (GI) lab, advanced technology helps physicians detect, diagnose and treat GI disorders. Video and cameras create images of the body cavity and organs. Upper endoscopy, for instance, uses an endoscope-a device with a light attached that can look inside the body-to see the upper gastrointestinal tract, helping to detect ulcers, obstructions and other GI problems.
With capsule endoscopy, also performed at the GI lab, patients swallow a capsule with a tiny wireless camera inside that takes thousands of pictures as it moves through the digestive tract. This allows doctors to see inside the small intestine, an area that can be otherwise challenging to image.
Advancements in imaging at Torrance Memorial continue to improve patient care and provide critical information for doctors. The future may not be ours to see, but with improved technology, the picture is getting a little clearer.