Aortic dissection can kill without warning—the untimely death of actor John Ritter in 2003 is a tragic, high-profile case in point—but researchers in Germany have recently discovered a method to image this rare heart ailment before it strikes down patients in the prime of their lives.

The study, led by Hans-Henning Eckstein, M.D., Ph.D, of the Technical University of Munich, used fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) to image patients with a PET/CT to determine the age of the aortic dissection, degree of risk, and the need for surgery. Patients in the study suffered from asymptomatic aortic dissections.

The researchers found a significant difference between acute and stable chronic varieties of the condition. In acute cases, they found that metabolic activity was elevated, while the stable variety had no elevation in metabolic activity. Eckstein and his team speculate that increased metabolic activity in cases of acute aortic dissection is due to repair mechanisms of the aortic wall injury, causing cell activation and accumulation, and that low metabolic activity in chronic aortic dissection is due to scar tissue. They concluded that further studies would be needed to test their hypothesis.

Another study in Japan also identified greater metabolic activity that was associated with greater risk for rupture. The Japanese researchers also used FDG PET/CT to image these heart patients.

While more research is needed to pinpoint the exact cause for the rise in metabolic activity, there is consensus that FDG PET/CT is an effective tool to image these patients and measure their level of risk.

Results of the Munich and Japanese study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine (


(Source: Press Release and Abstract)