This Heart Scan Can Save Your Life

New heart scan can save your life.
Man holding his chest in pain. | Image by Nopphon Pattanasri

A new heart scan can save your life. Traditionally, doctors consider a patient’s blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of diabetes, smoking history, weight, and family history to determine the risk of heart disease.

A study conducted at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins compared the traditional approach to a new method called coronary calcium scan.

Researchers studied the data results from over 7,000 participants and found that the scan gave an accurate estimate of heart disease risk, especially for those considered to be high or low risk.

Ironically, the study also concluded that fifteen percent of subjects who were thought to be low risk for a cardiac event actually had a high coronary calcium score (over 100) and were deemed a higher risk for a cardiac event in the next seven to ten years.

Additionally, thirty-five percent of participants thought to be high risk actually had no coronary artery calcium. Their heart health could be managed with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

“A coronary calcium scan isn’t for everyone, but it’s the finest way for those who are uncertain about their heart disease risk to make better decisions about treatment and medications,” says Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., the director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center.

So how does this new scan work? The coronary calcium scan tests for calcium buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. A type of X-ray called a Computed Tomography (CT) scan is used to take images of the coronary arteries to determine the amount of calcium present.

Why is that important knowledge to have? According to WebMD, calcium and fat are the two factors that lead to plaque in your arteries.

Over time, that plaque can harden, or calcify, slowing blood flow and increasing chest pain. If the calcified plaque breaks open, it could lead to a blood clot and a possible heart attack.

You may also hear a physician call the test a cardiac calcium scoring scan because a radiologist assigns a score that determines your risk of a cardiac event. If you score high, there is a significant amount of calcium present in the arteries that would indicate a higher possibility of a heart attack.

If you score in the medium range, changes such as diet and exercise could help lower the risk of a cardiac event. A healthy coronary calcium score is a zero, meaning no calcium is present; however, calcium typically appears in arteries as we age.

Are you ready to get a coronary calcium scan? Well, do not count on insurance to cover this type of test. The scan is so new that it is not considered a standard procedure for assessing heart health.

The good news is that the coronary calcium scan is relatively affordable, costing between $100-$400.

While the traditional way of diagnosing the risk of a heart attack or stroke is still considered the mainstream approach, you can request a coronary calcium scan to receive a more accurate picture of your heart health, and that could save your life.

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