By Debra Sherman and Ransdell Pierson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Patients who view images of their hearts and see for themselves the buildup of calcium within their artery walls become more compliant about taking their cholesterol-fighting drugs and are more likely to lose weight, researchers said on Saturday.
The finding resulted from two studies presented at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago.
Researchers took images of hearts using coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring with cardiac computed tomography, a test that uses a CT scanner to take detailed pictures of the heart.
They said those with the most advanced disease who saw images of their heart were 2.5 times more likely to take their statins as directed and more than three times as likely to have lost weight compared with those who had a scan and could see little or no evidence of disease.
"Beyond the diagnostic and predictive value of cardiac computed tomography, it is also quite beneficial in terms of motivating people to pursue behaviors that we know result in a reduction in cardiovascular mortality and morbidity," said Dr. Nove Kalia, one of the lead researchers for both studies.
Taking statins and adopting better lifestyle habits, such as a healthier diet and exercising, can have a huge impact on a patient's heart health.
"What's most interesting is that the higher the person's calcium score, the more likely they were to be compliant," Kalia said.
While other studies have examined the impact that patient-viewed heart scans can have on behavior, these are the first large-scale studies to corroborate similar finds in other studies.
One study that looked at statin compliance included 2,100 people. It found compliance was lowest among those who had a CAC score of 0, which indicates little or no disease. Those with the highest scores were more likely to take their drugs, when adjusted for age, gender and race.
Similar trends were found in the 518-patient weight loss study, researchers said. Behavior modification was lowest among patients who saw little evidence of disease and was highest among those with high CAC scores.
"With increasing use of noninvasive imaging, it seems we already have a powerful tool in helping to motivate patients to be compliant," Kalia said, adding that additional research is needed to confirm the findings and look at how better compliance leads to better outcomes.
The "seeing is believing" results bring to mind recent studies involving a technique to help younger people begin saving early for retirement. Participants shown images of themselves as elderly adults reported a strong motivation to save more aggressively.
(Reporting By Debra Sherman; Editing by Xavier Briand)