DALLAS -

Mary Rademacher knew she was having a problem with her heart.

"I could feel my heart beating," she recalled. "I noticed some things weren't quite right. I noticed some irregularity. I would feel tired, sometimes faint."

Instead of an invasive heart catheterization, doctors had a new, noninvasive tool at their disposal -- a 256-slice CT scanner. It takes four-dimensional high-definition images in about one-third of a second, with one pass around the heart. Some older systems take up to 16 rotations.

"We have great quality images with much less radiation," said Dr. Ambarish Gopal, the medical director of Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging CT program at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. "This probably might be the single most powerful test because we are not only able to look at the plumbing system of the heart, we can look at the whole cardiac system, including the cardiac valves."

The new scanner can see calcium buildup inside the coronary, even before people have symptoms. The imaging ruled out blockage. Rademacher's arrhythmia was fixed with medicine and a minor procedure.

"It is a life-saver, and it's so simple," said Rademacher.

"It does save lives, because if you do find early plaque formations, calcium buildup, we are able to identify early coronary artery disease," Gopal detailed.

This can lead to lifestyle changes that can reduce coronary artery disease and save lives.

The Heart Hospital in Texas is offering the new CT coronary calcium score along with diagnosis for only $79. So far, it is not reimbursed by insurance.

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