According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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. The test itself only takes a few minutes.”
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 if 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.”
Heart employee becomes heart patient
“When people see my scar, they ask about my heart surgery and what my symptoms were prior to my operation,” Rhonda Cescutti explains. Rhonda is an employee at EAMC and works with cardiologists. She had a calcium scoring test in September, and a few weeks later underwent open-heart surgery. “I explain to those who ask about my surgery that I had no symptoms. If I had not had a calcium test, I might have had a heart attack before I knew something was wrong.”
“When I began working for EAMC, Kevin Ryan, M.D. became my cardiologist,” Rhonda says. “After seeing the results of my calcium screening in September, Dr. Ryan ordered a stress echocardiogram and based on those results, he performed a cardiac catheterization.”
A few days later, Barry Crowe, M.D., performed open-heart surgery on Rhonda to bypass the two diseased arteries in her heart. Her surgery was successful and she is currently a patient in Cardiac Rehab at EAMC.
“During the month of September, EAMC was offering calcium scoring at a discounted rate, and one of my co-workers told me I should get the test,” Rhonda remembers. "Something serious could have happened had I not had my surgery when I did. I’m very thankful to my co-workers who encouraged me to have the test done.”