Can a Coronary Calcium Scan Save Your Life?

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What if there was a way to predict your risk of a heart attack? Would you be more willing to make changes to your lifestyle if you had better insight on your current heart condition? Fortunately, if you have certain health issues that could put you at risk of a future heart problem, there is a way.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The main cause of heart disease is calcium plaque that builds up in the arteries of your heart. Plaque buildup can be the result of:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • A family history of heart disease
  • Stress
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Rating Your Heart Health

According to Karthikeyan Ananth, M.D., a cardiologist for Henry Ford Health System, a specialized test called a coronary calcium scan can be used to check your heart for possible blockages.

“A coronary calcium scan is a quick CT scan of the heart,” says Dr. Ananth. “It is an outpatient procedure to detect plaque in the heart that is done without any dyes or contrast solutions. The test is designed to evaluate risk in people who have no heart symptoms but may be at increased risk for heart disease.”

Based on the results of this scan, your doctor will score your heart health. If a scan comes back negative, that means your heart is healthy. You can continue to live a healthy lifestyle.

If a scan is positive, it will be assigned a number – depending on how serious the calcium buildup. The higher the number, the more serious your risk. For example, a score above 100 puts you at increased risk of a heart attack. If your score is above 400, it is likely you may have significant blockages. Your doctor will recommend further procedures to identify or treat any possible blockages.

“By measuring the calcium scan we are able to actually impact patients’ lifestyle decisions,” says Dr. Ananth. “When patients see that calcium building up in their heart, it inspires them to make the right choices in life.”

Managing Your Heart Risk

After getting your score, talk with your doctor and cardiologist to figure out what are the best next steps for you. No matter how high your score is, your doctor will likely recommend you change your lifestyle habits, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, or take medication such as statins.

“Learn about your risk, particularly if you have a family history of early heart disease, or you’re a smoker,” reminds Dr. Ananth. “Be aware of the factors that can lead to a heart disease diagnosis.”

Coronary calcium scans are the most useful way to estimate your heart risk beyond a routine appointment with your doctor. Scans are inexpensive and take less than 15 minutes to get results. Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify to have this scan done.

Related Topic: 3 Experts Share Their Top Heart Health Advice

How healthy is your heart? Take the heart risk quiz to find out. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Karthikeyan Ananth is a cardiologist who specializes in general cardiology, valve disease, cardiac risk assessment and adult congenial heart disease. He sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell

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