Anyone who has been told they have risk factors for heart disease might want to consider learning their calcium score.
So what does that mean exactly? A calcium score reflects whether people have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, the major blood vessels to their heart. The lower their score, the less likely they are to have major blockages in their coronary arteries or to have a heart attack.
Health care providers can determine a person’s calcium score with a non-invasive computed tomography (CT) or cardiac CT scan. The CT scan takes pictures of the heart in thin sections. That helps the cardiologist see if the coronary arteries that provide blood flow to the heart muscle contain calcium. When cholesterol begins to deposit in the coronary arteries and blockages begin, calcium is deposited in the vessel wall allowing early detection by CT scanning.
“Calcium scans can provide early evidence that the process of hardening of the arteries is beginning, giving time to begin preventative therapy and reduce a patient’s risk of future heart attack,” says Dr. Alan Brown, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
“The test is low in radiation, inexpensive and can be done in 10 minutes. Often the CT scan provides critical information about an individual’s risk, even when there are no symptoms,” he says.
A coronary calcium scan is not advised as a routine screening for coronary heart disease. It is recommended for patients with a family history or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, tobacco use or elevated cholesterol. It can find heart disease at an earlier stage and assist a cardiologist in determining severity and an approach for treatment.
People with risk factors who want to learn more about how to find their calcium score can ask their cardiologist or primary care physician.