A heart magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is superior to echocardiography in diagnosing heart failure patients and predicting outcomes, according to a new study.

The research published in the European Heart Journal aimed to investigate if cardiovascular magnetic resonance can estimate left ventricular (LV) filling pressure in patients with suspected heart failure and if it has prognostic power.

It found that in patients with suspected heart failure cardiovascular magnetic resonance volumetric variables can be used to predict elevated LV filling pressure, significantly improving the classification provided by standard echocardiography assessment.

Almost 71% of patients who had wrongly measured pressures by echocardiography had correct pressures by heart MRI.

Reduce the need for invasive assessment in heart failure patients

Lead researcher Dr Pankaj Garg, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Heart failure is a dreadful condition resulting from rising pressures inside the heart. The best method to diagnose heart failure is by invasive assessment, which is not preferred as it has risks.

“An echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, is usually used to predict the pressure in the heart. However, it is not very accurate. We wanted to find out if MRI scans might offer a better alternative.

“These findings will reduce the need for invasive assessment. This is not only cost-effective but also reduces risks to patients, as a heart MRI scan is a completely non-invasive test. We also showed that the results from heart MRIs were powerful tools to predict whether a patient would live or die."

The research team studied 835 patients who received an invasive assessment and a heart MRI on the same day from the ASPIRE registry - a database of patients assessed at the Sheffield Pulmonary Vascular Disease Unit.

Until now, the best way of diagnosing heart failure has been an invasive assessment, but it carries risks for patients. Non-invasive echocardiogram, which is based on ultrasound, are usually used instead, but they are wrong in up to 50% of cases.

The study was funded by research grants from the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care.