Researchers from University Hospital Freiburg in Germany have developed a novel imaging technique that has shown fundamental differences in heart motion by age and gender.
The new imaging technique, they say, could lead to earlier diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tissue phase mapping has provided the most precise measurements of the left ventricle's complex motions as it contracts and relaxes with each heartbeat.
"This information could change the diagnosis and assessment of heart disease from its earliest stages," said Dr Daniela Foll, lead author of the study and a senior consultant in cardiology at University Hospital Freiburg in Germany.
The healthy heart performs a complex wringing motion with each beat. The base of the left ventricle changes its direction of rotation up to six times per beat. The ventricle's top rotates counterclockwise during contraction and clockwise during relaxation.
However, according to Foll, as heart problems develop, various regions of the left ventricle - which pumps blood through the body - change the speed at which they move during each beat.
"MRI enables a complete analysis of muscle motion within the entire left ventricle," Foll said.
"Knowledge of the exact distribution and timing of the velocities within the ventricle is essential for the exact understanding of the muscle performance in heart disease," she added.
The study involving 29 male and 29 female healthy volunteers in three age groups 20-40, 41-60 and older than 60 years.
The researchers found that age and gender strongly influenced the regional motion of the heart muscle during relaxation and contraction.
Heart's apex rotation speed decreased with aging. Women had higher up-and-down motion velocities along the long-axis of the ventricle than men. However, these motion speed differences were reversed in older volunteers.
The MRI images identified a greater decline in women than men in muscle shortening and expansion from the ventricle's base to its top during both contraction and relaxation.
The study appears in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, a journal of the American Heart Association.