Calcium scoring helps predict risk for heart disease
Did you know?
1 in 4 Americans have some form of heart disease
500,000 Americans will die of heart attacks this year
Over half of those who die will have had no previous symptoms
85% of heart disease can be halted or prevented if detected early
Heart disease is one of the leading health concerns for most Americans. So medicine continues to look for ways to identify risks before a heart attack or stroke happens. One such screening tool is coronary artery calcium scoring.
Calcium scoring helps determine the presence, location and thickness of calcified plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Calcified plaque in the coronary arteries is a sign of coronary artery disease (CAD)
and possible problems elsewhere such as in the carotid arteries which supply blood to the brain. Left untreated, this can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Calcium scoring helps measure the extent of CAD and the risk for a heart attack.*
The test is best for people who may not have symptoms but are at moderate risk for heart disease because of:
- High level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol
- A family history of heart disease, especially in those under age 50
- High blood pressure
- Tobacco use
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of regular physical activity
Calcium scoring uses high-resolution computed tomography (CT), a type of X-ray. The calcified plaque shows as white spots on the CT images. Special software scores the amount of calcium based on the brightness and size of these spots.
Low-dose CT calcium scoring is non-invasive and painless, takes less than 15 minutes and requires no needles, dyes or special prep.
The calcium score not only helps predict the likelihood of a heart attack, the information also helps determine the best management. This might include:
- lifestyle changes
- medication such as cholesterol-lowering drugs
- interventional procedure such as angioplasty and stenting to open blocked arteries
There are changes people can make to slow the progression of plaque calcification, including:
- lose weight
- exercise more
- eat healthier
- stop smoking
Calcium scoring is not covered by all health insurance plans, so you should review your insurance benefits. If not covered, Gundersen Lutheran offers the test for $156. To learn if you would benefit from calcium scoring, talk with your healthcare provider.
*While coronary artery calcium scoring is helpful for upgrading the heart disease risk status of those without symptoms, a low or zero score should not be used to downgrade risks as determined by other factors, and does not rule out significant coronary artery disease.