Objectives: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the elderly. The evaluation of coronary artery disease by exercise stress testing is frequently limited by the patient's inability to exercise. Although pharmacologic stress testing with dobutamine is an alternative, the safety of dobutamine myocardial perfusion scintigraphy in the elderly has not been previously studied.
Patients and methods: We studied the safety and feasibility of dobutamine (up to 40 microg/kg/min)-atropine (up to 1 mg) stress myocardial perfusion scintigraphy using technetium single-photon emission CT imaging in 227 patients > or = 70 years old (mean +/- SD age, 75 +/- 4 years). A control group of 227 patients < 70 years old (mean age, 55 +/- 11 years; matched for gender, prevalence of previous infarction, beta-blocker therapy, and severity of resting perfusion abnormalities) was studied to assess age-related differences in the safety and the hemodynamic response. A feasible test was defined as the achievement of the target heart rate and/or an ischemic end point (angina, ST-segment depression, or reversible perfusion abnormalities).
Results: No myocardial infarction or death occurred during the test. The target heart rate was achieved more frequently in the elderly patients (87% vs 79%; p < 0.05). The elderly patients had a higher prevalence of supraventricular tachycardia (7% vs 1%; p < 0.005) and premature ventricular contraction (74% vs 32%; p < 0.005) during the test, as compared to the younger patients. There was a trend to a higher prevalence of ventricular tachycardia (5% vs 2%) and atrial fibrillation (3% vs 0.4%) in the elderly patients. Arrhythmias were terminated spontaneously by termination of dobutamine infusion or by administration of metoprolol. Independent predictors of supraventricular tachyarrhythmias and ventricular tachycardia were older age (p < 0.001; chi(2), 9.8) and myocardial perfusion defect score at rest (p < 0.01; chi(2), 6.8) respectively, by using a multivariate analysis of clinical and stress test variables. Elderly patients had a higher prevalence of systolic BP drop > 20 mm Hg during the test (37% vs 12%; p < 0.05). The test was terminated due to hypotension in 2% of the elderly patients and in 1% of the control group. Age was the most powerful predictor of hypotension (p < 0.005; chi(2), 10.3). The test was considered feasible in 216 elderly patients (95%) and in 209 patients of the control group (92%).
Conclusion: Dobutamine-atropine stress myocardial perfusion scintigraphy is a highly feasible method for the evaluation of coronary artery disease in the elderly. Elderly patients have a higher risk for developing hypotension and supraventricular tachyarrhythmias during a dobutamine stress test. However, dobutamine-induced hypotension is often asymptomatic and rarely necessitates the termination of the test.