Heart scan curiosities 3

This is a sample image from the heart scan of a 54-year old, 212 lb, 5 ft 2 inch woman. The heart is the whitish-gray in the center; lungs are the dark (air-filled) areas on either side of the heart. Note the massive amount of surrounding gray tissues that encircles the heart and lungs. This is fat. At this weight, the diameter of total fat exceeds the combined diameter of the heart and lungs. If we were to show the abdomen, there would be even more fat. (The image shows the body not well centered because the technologist centers the heart, since this is, after all, a heart scan.)

This is a 55-year old, 151 lb, 5 ft 4 inch woman. Note the contrast in the quantity of fat tissue surrounding the chest, a much more normal appearance. Note that this woman is still around 25 lb over ideal weight, but not to the extreme degree of the woman above.

Another curious observation: Note the more whitish streaking in the heavier woman's lungs. Heart scans are performed while holding a deep inspiration (a deep breath inwards), mostly to eliminate lung respiratory motion during image acquisition. Nonetheless, the heavier woman's lungs are not as fully expanded as the more slender woman. In other words, the heavier woman cannot inflate her lungs as effectively as the thinner woman. Ever notice how breathless heavy people are? Some of this effect is just being out of shape. But there's also the added effect of the abdominal fat exerting upwards compression on the lung tissues, and the constrictive effect of the encircling fat mass. At the beginning of inspiration, the chest fat exerts the resistance of inertia to inspiration that is absent, or less, in a slender person. With each breath, the heavy woman must move 50 lbs or so of surrounding fat mass just to inhale.

The heavier woman is, in effect, suffocating herself in fat.

The distortions to the human body incurred by extreme weight gain are both fascinating and shocking. I hope you're breathing easily.

Comments (7) -

  • Anonymous

    12/14/2006 4:55:00 PM |

    Exactly what triggers people to choose to be obese or even 20 lbs overweight? I find it disgusting.  People have to realize being overweight is unhealthly and puts that person at extreme risk for health problems. How sad it must be for young children not to have parents that can run with them in the park or worse yet lose one to heart disease, stroke or cancer.

  • Soundhunter

    1/1/2007 7:04:00 AM |

    hmmm. Me again, commenting twice.

    My 5 month old daughter has "pectus excavatum ", the docs said it's mild and won't show when she's an adult, they only seemed concerned with it for cosmetic reasons.

    I also have thought that the roof of her mouth seemed "deeper" or higher I guess you could say, than my other daughter's was in infancy. But, 5 monther with pectus excavatum doesn't have slender fingers, though she is quite long, repeated ultrasounds showed she had long legs. Is she possibly at higher risk for heart problems as an adult? Why wouldn't 2 different family docs know this, or tell me about it?

  • Dr. Davis

    1/1/2007 2:30:00 PM |

    An ultrasound of the heart, or echocardiogram, would settle the question. It's a harmless test that requires just a few minutes. If your daughter's doctor won't order it, find one that will.

  • Mo D.

    2/27/2007 2:54:00 AM |

    I'm saddened but not surprised that a doctor would call pectus excavatum just a curiosity.  I have quite a number of heart and lung ailments from my PE.  Had my doctor felt differently about PE when I was a kid and had suggested surgery, I would have suffered less than I have to having the surgery in my 30s. They say the teen years are the best time for surgical repair of PE. So yes, PE does cause heart and lung problems in adults.  At least this adult.

  • Anonymous

    2/28/2007 3:55:00 PM |

    Here's a relevant cite:
    Cardiovascular function following surgical repair of pectus excavatum: a metaanalysis.


  • Paul Höppener MD Phd

    11/16/2007 6:32:00 PM |

    I am a 69 year old retired fysician.With a moderate congenital pectus excavatum. For more than 10 years I suffered from complaints like shorness of breath, fatigue and arythmia.Even a catheter ablation has been performed 4 years ago to stop Supraventricular tachycardia of 220.min. After 3 months a more moderate tachycardia returned. My complaints where posture dependent: bending or pressure on the upper abdomen or the pectus cavity did increase the problems.
    CT showed cardiocompression!
    To go short: after corrective surgery (Ravitch) my complaints have totally disappeared. I could stop with all medicines, can walk uphill agian and cycle with proper speed. Reborn without reincarnation.
    Lesson: symptomatic pectus excavatum can also happen to senior people an dcorrective surgery is worth while.
    See also:  http://www.spesweb.nl/SPES_English.htm

  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 2:54:30 PM |

    It could mean that some attention and exploration of how floppy his mitral valve might be could be useful, e.g., an ultrasound or echocardiogram. He might even require oral antibiotics at the time of any oral or some gastrointestinal procedures, since floppy valve are more susceptible to blood infections when potentially "dirty" orifices are instrumented.