Use of pharmaceuticals in noninvasive cardiovascular diagnosis

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Heart Disease


A number of pharmaceuticals are employed as diagnostic agents for cardiovascular diseases. Four groups of agents are reviewed here: 1) vasoactive substances employed as adjuncts to physical maneuvers in diagnosis of structural heart disease; 2) vasodilators used to produce heterogeneity of coronary flow; 3) sympathomimetic agents simulating the effects of exercise on the heart for the purpose of detection of coronary artery stenosis; and 4) ultrasonic contrast agents used to enhance myocardial imaging for the assessment of segmental wall motion. In the first group are amyl nitrate, a vasodilator, and methoxamine and phenylephrine, both vasopressors. The vasodilators of the second group are dipyridamole and adenosine. When combined with scintigraphic perfusion imaging or with echocardiographic assessment of segmental wall motion, these agents can detect single- or multiple-vessel coronary artery disease with sensitivity and specificity comparable to submaximal exercise. They are especially useful for preoperative risk assessment before noncardiac surgery. The sympathomimetic agents of the third group, dobutamine and arbutamine, increase myocardial contractility and heart rate, and dilate the peripheral vasculature. As with the vasodilators, when combined with nuclear or echocardiographic techniques they are equivalent to exercise in detection of coronary disease. They are especially useful in patients with bronchospastic disease and for assessment of myocardial viability. Agents from groups 2 and 3 have acceptable side-effect and safety profiles. The last group reviewed includes echocardiographic contrast agents that, in this investigative setting, are employed to enhance detection of segmental wall motion when used with agents from groups 2 and 3.

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