Sweet Heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year and for 525,000 of them, it’s their first heart attack. Of those individuals who experience sudden death from heart attack, many were not experiencing symptoms and may not have been considered at high risk. Now, with calcium scoring, radiologists can determine your risk of heart attack based on the amount of calcium present in your artery walls.

What is calcium scoring and why do I need it?

Calcium scoring is a noninvasive CT scan that measures calcium build-up in your artery walls. “The CT scans your heart and then we use a program to see if there is calcium present,” Johnathan Hadley, M.D., a board-certified radiologist at EAMC explains. “From there, we can determine a score based on our findings. In addition to looking at your heart, we also look at your lungs and upper abdomen to check for any abnormalities. The test itself only takes a few minutes and the exposure to radiation is minimal.”

Dr. Hadley explains that the only normal calcium score is zero. “Healthy individuals should have no calcium in their heart,” Dr. Hadley notes. “If you have any calcium in your heart; you have coronary disease. Unlike guessing what your risk of heart disease is based on family history or symptoms, by looking at your heart for the presence of calcium, we can tell you more definitively that you are at risk for heart attack. Based on your calcium score (the amount of calcium found in your system), we can determine whether you are low, intermediate or high risk for a future heart attack.

“For years, doctors have been relying on a list of risk factors that can increase the development of heart disease: smoking, being overweight, having high cholesterol, having high blood pressure or being diabetic,” Dr. Hadley says. “Based on those findings you would be classified as low, intermediate, or high risk for heart attack. Unfortunately, most of the people who go on to have heart attacks are actually the people who are in the intermediate risk group. However, with calcium scoring, that is not the case. The risk of heart attack for individuals who score low or intermediate calcium scores is very low compared to those who are in the high risk group. Almost 90 percent of all heart events happen to the high risk group, which allows us to identify people who actually need to be monitored and treated.”

Am I a candidate for calcium screening?

Heart disease is prevalent in Alabama, which is why calcium screening is so important. Doctors recommend that if you are otherwise healthy, a calcium screening test should be performed at age 40 for men and 45 for women. If your score is zero, generally, you do not need to be tested again for five years.

“Even for people who have good health, this is a safe, noninvasive test (much like a screening mammogram) that can provide more information about your heart health,” Dr. Hadley states. “This is a study that is underutilized and is currently not covered by insurance in Alabama and Georgia.  Calcium scoring is valuable because it is a very good reflection of actual risk for the individual.  Sometimes, even if you have a normal stress test, your calcium score could determine that you are at high risk for heart attack. It’s another piece of information that can provide your doctor a more complete picture of your actual risk.”

Auburn Diagnostic Imaging (ADI), a service of EAMC, is equipped with the most advanced digital technology and staffed with board-certified radiologists to perform calcium screening tests. This test is not covered by insurance in most states, including Alabama and Georgia. However, in order to promote heart health during the month of February, ADI is offering calcium scoring tests at 50 percent off for any screenings scheduled between Feb. 1-28. ADI also offers same-day or next-day appointments. Those with chest pain, known heart disease, previous angioplasty/stent or heart surgery are not good candidates and do not qualify for this test. See the advertisement below for more information.

Heart Disease in the United States

•  About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

•  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.

•  Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.

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