Not All Plaque is Equal

Determining what type of plaque built up in your arteries is taking place can be a significant step in helping prevent a potentially fatal cardiac event; and the safest, most non-invasive method for determination is through a CT or MRI scan of the heart.

Heart attacks are principally caused by artery plaque becoming dislodged, causing an arterial obstruction, and a significant number of patients who suffer a heart attack never have any warning signs.

The majority of cardiac emergency events can be traced back to noncalcified plaque, a buildup of soft deposits embedded deep within the walls of the heart’s arteries, undetectable by angiography or cardiac stress tests — and prone to rupture without warning, according to the CDC.

Determining what type of plaque built up in your arteries is taking place can be a significant step in helping prevent a potentially fatal cardiac event; and the safest, most non-invasive method for determination is through a CT or MRI scan of the heart.

“The importance of quantifying plaque is critical because total plaque burden is considered the most important predictor of coronary events,” Melvin Clouse, M.D., Ph.D., Emeritus Chairman of the Department of Radiology and Director of Radiology Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and Deaconess Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, writes in a study about plaque build-up and detection. “Furthermore, the rupture of soft noncalcified plaque has been implicated as the cause of heart attack.”

Dr. Clouse, an interventional radiologist and researcher, has authored several studies on plaque phenotypes and ways to determine the risk of heart attack, as well as ways to mitigate such risk.

Exercise stress testing and coronary angiography, the standard methods for diagnosing atherosclerosis and heart attack risk, both work by visualizing the lumen, the channel through which blood flows.

However, because the lumen also increases in size as plaque progresses, coronary artery disease may go undetected until late in the disease process. And, Clouse writes, “Because soft plaque buildup may not significantly narrow the lumen, conventional angiography and stress tests fail to provide a complete picture of plaque accumulation.”

Now, technology exists allowing patients to have their heart scanned to both measure the amount of plaque build-up, determine what type of plaque exists, and in concert with their cardiologist or internist, prevent a heart attack or stroke before it happens.

“[S]canners have made it possible to detect noncalcified plaque,” Clouse writes. “However, … accurate and reproducible measurements of this plaque was difficult and time-consuming [before] a new technique that would overcome these obstacles [was finally developed].”

Ascend Imaging Center, in partnership with Cleerly, a laboratory in Colorado that has pioneered the use of artificial intelligence in MRI heart scanning, can now provide you and your physician a detailed analysis of plaque amount and phenotype, significantly changing the way preventative medicine is practiced.

For more information on the Cleerly Heart Scan and other preventative analysis tests, contact Ascend Imaging today at (248) 595-8404.

Conveniently located at the northwest corner of Telegraph and 12 Mile Roads, inside the Comerica office tower, Ascend Imaging Center is 20 minutes from nearly anywhere in the metropolitan Detroit area — and your first stop for heart health.

An Ounce of Prevention: Knowing Can Be Lifesaving

people in 2019, according to the CDC, but other coronary-related medical events like heart attack, stroke, and abdominal aortic aneurysm can potentially be discovered before they happen; knowing makes the difference.

Nothing kills more Americans every year than cardiovascular disease and stroke. More than 868,000 Americans die annually from heart disease and related ailments, which has been the leading cause of death in the United States for as long as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked causes of mortality.

That staggering number translates into one person dying every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease, according to the CDC’s statistics, and that need not be the case. Taking control of your heart health, including living a healthy lifestyle, also means assessing the condition of your heart and the circulatory system.

Coronary disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 360,900 people in 2019, according to the CDC, but other coronary-related medical events like heart attack, stroke, and abdominal aortic aneurysm can potentially be discovered before they happen; knowing makes the difference.

In many cases, a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, is the first sign you’ll get of heart disease, which is referred to as the “silent killer” because it rarely displays symptoms beforehand.

This is why preventative care through diagnostic, state-of-the-art technologies at Ascend Imaging Center, offers you the best chance for heading off CAD before a medical emergency. With several, affordable, scanning procedures offered to assess your risks, Ascend complements other preventative measures, like healthy lifestyle choices and routine physicals, ensuring your long-term health.

While anyone can suffer from cardiovascular disease, the most common elements used when assessing your risk include:

  • Family history;
  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Weight;
  • Blood pressure;
  • High cholesterol;
  • Diabetes, and;
  • Whether you currently, or previously had been, a smoker.

Another interesting factor, while not clearly understood but relevant to Michiganders, is that residents in the Midwest lead the nation, by region, in heart disease according to CDC statistics.

Preventive vs. Diagnostic Care

Preventive care includes screenings, lab tests, immunizations and other services intended to prevent illness or detect problems before you notice any symptoms. The right preventive care at the right time can help you stay well — and could save your life.

Diagnostic care is an after-the-fact component of treatment, given to diagnose or treat symptoms you already have. Preventive care is frequently received during a routine physical. Diagnostic care may result if a preventive screening detects abnormal results.

The line between types of care can sometimes be blurred, with the same procedure being employed differently, depending on the situation, but Ascend Imaging’s scanning procedures and new partnership with Colorado-based Cleerly offer clients the most advanced technologies on the market, at affordable prices, to gauge your heart health.

To learn about our variety of scans, please see our service offerings.

The axiom about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is more true now than ever, with health care costs continuing to rise; we make prevention affordable and our pricing is transparent: see for yourself.

As we grapple with year two of COVID-19, we can’t forget our health requires more than just vaccines and masks. The CDC has recently launched a new campaign reminding clinicians and patients alike to make cardiovascular health a priority, especially during the pandemic.

The “Start Small. Live Big.” campaign encourages adults, particularly those age 55 and older, to get back on track with small, proactive, and preventative steps — like scheduling medical appointments, getting active, and eating healthy — so we can all get back to living big.

Learn more about the CDC’s new campaign at and contact us today for more information and to schedule the preventative screening that is right for you.

The Future of Health is Here, Now

A color image of the heart as viewed from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screen. Advances in technology, including Artificial Intelligence, have made non-invasive preventative cardiac screening effective, efficient and cost-friendly.

A European study outlining the benefits of cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in helping identify suspected coronary artery disease ahead of a medical emergency, like a stroke or heart attack, predicted the increased use of these type of non-invasive techniques more than 10 years ago.

Since that peer-reviewed article was first published (read the full study on the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine website), advances in technology and the reduction of costs have both contributed to a significant tool in helping prevent cardiac injury. In 2010, most diagnostic tools to detect cardiac potential events involved contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) coronary angiography; work-ups were also dependent on patients with suspected coronary artery disease.

Yet, many clinicians treating patients with suspected coronary artery disease still rely on older methods like stress electrocardiography (ECG) and stress echocardiography, which are aimed at the detection of abnormalities under stress conditions.

Today, advances in computer-aided artificial intelligence, along with increased functionality of MRI machines and programming, patients who may not either present with symptoms of cardiac disease or even have a family history, can take advantage of technology well in advance of a potential catastrophic medical event.

Photo of a blood clot in an artery, courtesy of the Material Science and Engineering Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY; Rensselaer Poly, along with Cornell University and the NIH partnered with Cleerly in developing, studying and proving the efficacy of the company’s diagnostic capabilities.

Ascend Imaging Center’s partnership with CLEERLY, the Colorado-based technology firm that pioneered a new way of imaging the heart and surrounding circulatory system to non-invasively detect cardiac disease is at the forefront of medical advancement.

This is not hyped Silicon Valley smoke and mirrors; Cleerly’s technology is based on more than a decade of foundational research conducted in partnership with leading medical institutions, including New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine, and the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (an academic-industrial collaboration between General Electric Research and Rensselaer Polytechnic University), according to its founder and CEO, Dr. James K. Min.

Dr. James K. Min, founder and CEO of Cleerly, has partnered with Ascend Imaging Center offering its diagnostic test for arterial plaque that can lead to medical emergencies.

Min explained that the research proving efficacy included large-scale clinical trials with more than 50,000 patients, which comprised the “[m]ost extensive body of coronary imaging research to study how imaging can be used to better understand heart disease and project patient outcomes.

“Through the application of artificial intelligence that is constantly being refined with our … clinical data, Cleerly is finally bringing heart disease diagnosis and prevention into the 21st century,” Min added.

The results have been nothing short of amazing when compared to older, non-invasive diagnostic techniques, according to Dr. Justin Klein, a physician and venture capitalist who has helped with rounds of funding in support of the company’s mission. “We see Cleerly as the future of how coronary artery disease will be evaluated, and we support the company’s mission to tailor a personalized approach to diagnosis, management, and treatment, and to validate all of this with world-class clinical evidence of utility and cost-effectiveness.”

Ascend Imaging Center’s partnership with Cleerly makes this technology available here, in Southeast Michigan, and in concert with your primary care physician or cardiologist, the results can be a game-changer.

For more information on Cleerly and other diagnostic tools, contact Ascend Imaging at (248) 595-8404.