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Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring Reveals Early-Stage Heart Disease

Posted 1/6/2017 by UHBlog

If you want to know the total amount of plaque in your coronary arteries – and your risk of having a heart attack – see us.

Calcium Scoring

Are you a heart attack waiting to happen? With a simple X-ray procedure that takes between five and 10 minutes to complete, you'll be able to know the answer.

Known as coronary artery calcium scoring, the non-invasive diagnostic procedure is considered the single most accurate method to predict your risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD occurs when fatty deposits build up along the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. The fatty deposits thicken and enlarge over a person's life, resulting in atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes the arteries to become narrow, and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart.

“Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is the major cause of heart attacks leading to one in three deaths in the U.S.,” says cardiologist George Farah, MD. “Robust clinical evidence suggests that calcium scoring is the most useful tool in predicting a patient’s risk of cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction and stroke.”

According to Dr. Farah, the test looks for specks of calcium – or calcifications – in the walls of the coronary arteries, while you lie inside a computed tomography (CT) imaging machine. Calcifications are an early sign of coronary artery disease.

The CT images shows the presence and extent of calcium deposits in plaque on the walls of your heart’s arteries. Scores can range from:

  • 0: No calcium is seen, and there is a very low risk (less than 1 percent) of having a heart attack over the next 10 years
  • 1-99: Low risk of a heart attack in the next 10 years
  • 100-399: Moderate risk of developing atherosclerosis and artery blockages over the next 10 years
  • 400 or greater: High risk of suffering a cardiac event in the next 10 years

“Depending on your score, your doctor may recommend lifestyle measures and medications to lower your disease risk,” he says. “If your calcium score is high, this is a warning that extensive hardening of the arteries may be present and aggressive prevention strategies should be used.”

The calcium score test is recommended for men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older who do not have a history of coronary artery disease. In addition, you should have one or more risk factors for heart disease, which include:

  • High blood cholesterol
  • Low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes and/or
  • A family history of heart disease

One group that is benefiting from calcium scoring are patients with chronic inflammatory disease.

“In the past, predicting their risk of cardiovascular disease was challenging,” Dr. Farah says.

If you're age 40 or older and have been diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or psoriasis, you should be tested.

Previously, despite the availability of this test, very few patients had the test done as it is generally not covered by insurance and was quite costly. However, University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute now offers the calcium scoring test at no cost. To arrange for a test, you or your doctor can call Radiology Patient Access at 216-844-1700. A physician order is required to schedule.

View a list of the UH locations that offer calcium score testing.

George Farah, MD is a cardiologist at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. You can request an appointment with Dr. Farah or any other doctor online.

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