According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the United States.
Mindy Gentry, a physician certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine, splits her time between her office at the WellStar East Cobb Medical Center on Johnson Ferry Road and WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.
Gentry, who was born in Savanah and grew up on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, was one of the first physicians at WellStar to use the latest advancement in diagnosing heart disease, the Corus CAD test.
Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Gentry said she started administering the test two years ago, and has increased her use of the Corus CAD test for two reasons.
It provides proof to assure patients they do not have heart disease. And it helps identify patients with heart concerns who might not have stood out as having coronary artery disease.
“This test allows some objectivity,” Gentry said.
Gentry said a negative result from the Corus CAD test is reliable, which is why she has been answering questions about the medical advancement from WellStar cardiology colleagues and primary care physicians.
If the test is negative, it rules out a coronary blockage in a patient with “unclear symptoms,” Gentry said.
Just a blood test
Patients presenting with symptoms of heart disease are traditionally given a stress test by running on a treadmill or being injected with chemicals, while a sonogram, called an echocardiogram, is taken of the heart.
According to the CDC, patients with chest pain undergo extensive testing with high medial costs.
“Despite the significant resources expended, only 10 percent of patients presenting to primary care with chest pain are ultimately diagnosed with stable obstructive CAD,” according to a 2005 study called “Diagnosing the Cause of Chest Pain.”
A reason Gentry said she likes the Corus CAD test is because a patient is not exposed to radiation.
The new diagnostic tool allows physicians to make “the appropriate diagnosis, more accurately, and in more people, with less risk,” Gentry said.
The Corus CAD test is a non-invasive “gene expression” test that checks a patient’s blood for both genetic and environmental factors.
The results are returned within 72 hours. Gentry said the three-day turnaround is not a concern.
“If a patient is too unstable to wait that amount of time, that is probably someone that needs to be in the hospital anyway,” Gentry said.
The Corus CAD test is not available for diabetic patients, or anyone who is currently taking steroids, immunosuppressive medicine or chemotherapeutic agents.
A hidden killer among women
The Corus CAD test is a more accurate analysis for women, who Gentry said were in great need for a better diagnostic system.
Gentry, who sees a higher percentage of female patients than men, said some physicians are prone “to write someone off as having anxiety.”
Gentry, who has three young daughters, said she has a special interest in women with heart disease, especially during pregnancy.
“There still tends to be the bias in medicine that you think of men as heart patients,” Gentry said.
But, more women than men in the United States die from heart disease. Gentry said this fact, backed by research, is gaining in the public’s knowledge.
Gentry said 10 years ago, there was also increasing evidence that women present with heart disease in a different way than men.
With men, the most common symptom is crushing chest pressure, but women are more likely to have fatigue, nausea and shortness of breath.
“The symptoms tend to be more vague,” Gentry said, which makes for a harder diagnosis because those symptoms could be related to other health concerns. “It is not a classic story.”
February is National Heart Month, so to raise awareness about heart health, the first Friday of February is National Wear Red Day. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the public campaign.