Know Your Risk of Heart Attack In 10 Minutes or Less

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Are you a heart attack waiting to happen? A simple X-ray procedure can give you a good idea of your risk for heart attack.

Called 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. Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty deposits build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle, causing the arteries to become narrowed. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart and lead to a heart attack.

The test takes between five and 10 minutes to complete. Done without an intravenous line or the use of any X-ray contrast material, 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. Once complete, the scan provides your physician with a coronary artery calcium score, which can range from zero to 400 or more.

“The presence of calcium in your arteries is a marker of atherosclerotic disease, a major cause of heart attacks,” says Robert Gilkeson, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. “It’s a quantifiable measure of disease within the blood vessels, particularly within the coronary arteries.”

If no calcifications are found in the arteries, your risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years is extremely low. The higher your score, the higher your risk. Depending on your score, your doctor may recommend lifestyle measures and medications to lower your disease risk. A very high calcium score (over 400) is a warning that extensive hardening of the arteries may be present and aggressive prevention strategies should be used.

Who Should Have Calcium Scoring?

Cardiac calcium scoring is recommended for men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older who do not have a history of coronary artery disease but have one or more risk factors for heart disease, which include:

  • High blood cholesterol
  • Low HDL, or good, cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • A family history of heart disease

The test also is recommended for men and women age 40 or older who are diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory condition, including inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriasis.

UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute offers the test at no cost to eligible patients. A physician order is required to schedule. To arrange for a test, you or your doctor can call Radiology Patient Access at 216-844-1700.

Related Links

Calcium Scoring Program

University Hospitals Heart and Vascular Services

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