A Coronary Calcium Scan Could Save Your Life

By Rhonda Pfaffly, Referral Coordinator for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually, per the American Heart Association. Alarming statistics, but with the Coronary Calcium Scan physicians are able to catch the beginning stages of heart disease and then refer you to a cardiologist if necessary.

On a personal note…

The reason I felt the need to write about Coronary Calcium Scans, is that I lost my husband in January due to unknown heart issues. I wanted to make sure everyone knows about this simple test that could possibly save your life. Or at least make you are aware there’s a chance you could have heart  disease.

My husband had a very physical job and he was an avid golfer. He rarely went to the doctor and didn’t present with any heart issues other than family history of heart disease. He did have normal cholesterol and triglycerides, normal EKG, no shortness of breath or chest pain prior to his death.

My husband was only 56 years old. Due to his age, an autopsy was performed. This is how I learned of his heart disease.

I felt compelled to tell my story so I could spread awareness that this test is available. I recommend you to talk with your provider to see if you would be a good candidate for the Coronary Calcium Scan. I feel that if my husband would have had this test done just because of his family history, we would have known he had heart disease and been more proactive. We could have been referred to a cardiologist for additional treatment.

So, how can we be proactive in our own heart health?

Artery ComparisonFirst, ask your physician if you are a good candidate for the Coronary Calcium Scan. Your physician will order the scan based on risk factors, family history, age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes and smoking history. Men, age 35-70, and women, age 40-70 should ask their physician or make appointment especially if they any of these risk factors as mentioned above.

A heart computerized tomography (CT) scan, also called a calcium-score screening heart scan, is used to find calcium deposits in plaque of people with heart disease.  They are the most effective way to spot atherosclerosis before symptoms develop. They look for the plaque inside the arteries of your heart that can eventually grow and restrict or block the flow of blood to the muscles of the heart. The measurement of calcified plaque with a heart scan may enable your doctor to identify possible coronary artery disease before you have signs and symptoms.

The doctor will decide if you are low or intermediate risk for heart disease. If low or intermediate risk, the cardio scan can determine presence and degree of calcium, indicating probable cholesterol build up. (See scoring chart)

The outcome of the test may indicate the need for medication or lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart attack other heart problems. If you are high risk, the best test is a cardiac catheterization-dye test as it will give more detail and ordered by a cardiologist.

Coronary Artery Calcium ScoresSome imaging centers and hospitals in the Kansas City area are offering these scans for as low as $50 (out of pocket cost) and a written order from your doctor. Little preparation is involved, no caffeine 4 hours prior, no antihistamines 24 hours prior, and no vigorous exercise 2 hours prior to the exam. This of course may vary depending on where you schedule your exam.

I have my scan scheduled in about a week, and I encourage everyone that has a family history, or any symptoms listed above, please take this step and be proactive. Talk to your physician to ensure your heart is healthy… not only for yourself but for your family.

For more details of the CT scan go to www.heart.org and as always, if you are experiencing any symptoms: chest pain, tightness, pressure, shortness of breath, numbness in legs and arms, weakness, pain in the neck, jaw or throat, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency facility.

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