Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, accounting for 1 in 4 of all deaths, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With only 27 percent of people recognizing symptoms of a heart attack, a crucial first step is public awareness. Now a 15-minute, $69 scan offers a more accurate heart risk assessment to predict and prevent heart attacks.
“A coronary calcium score measures cardiac risk and helps assess the likelihood of having a heart attack in the near future. The score is obtained through a noninvasive heart scan that takes about 15 minutes to perform. It immediately provides easy-to-understand results.”
“A coronary calcium score measures cardiac risk and helps assess the likelihood of having a heart attack in the near future,” explains Dr. Richard Gelb, a cardiologist at MountainStar Heart and Vascular Center in Orem. “The score is obtained through a noninvasive heart scan that takes about 15 minutes to perform. It immediately provides easy-to-understand results.”
Heart scan price tags come at an affordable price point too. Some imaging facilities offer coronary calcium scans for as little as $69, including St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City.
A 15-minute heart scan can make the difference between life and death. Not convinced? Read on.
Coronary calcium scores reveal heart health
What does the heart scan measure? The coronary artery calcium scan measures the amount of calcification in the arteries and better pinpoints blockages. It is this plaque build-up (calcification) in cardiac arteries that causes heart disease and heart attacks in the first place.
The scan gives patients a percentage score cardiologists view as the most accurate predictor for future cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or strokes.
A heart scan score establishes current heart health more precisely than other tests, according to U.S. News and World Report. CAC scores can predict future risk of heart attacks more effectively than age and other traditional risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure.
The coronary calcium test can be used in conjunction with a treadmill test to help quantify cardiac risk at an earlier stage, explains Dr. Andrew Behunin, a cardiologist at MountainStar St. Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City.
What to expect during your scan
The coronary calcium scan takes no longer than 15 minutes. During this time, a CT scanner takes images of the heart while the patient rests comfortably.
The heart scan apparatus uses an open, doughnut-shaped tube with enough room to keep even those with claustrophobia comfortable and secure. Loose-fitting clothes can be worn and not your typical hospital gown.
“Patients and their doctors receive their results within a couple of weeks,” Gelb says. “The closer the personal score is to zero the better.” By comparing heart scan scores to other participants of similar age and gender, participants and providers receive a firm comparison tool for personal heart risk assessment.
Are you a candidate for a heart scan?
A heart scan can provide peace of mind for anyone that chooses to have one. Those 35 years of age or older, or who have one or more risk factors for heart disease, are highly encouraged to have a scan.
The calcium test is best suited for adults with cardiac risk factors including diabetes, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or strong family history, says Behunin.
"Some may feel reassured that their hearts are healthy when their blood cholesterol levels are normal," Behunin says. "The unfortunate truth is that blood cholesterol levels do not always correlate with plaque burden. A calcium score gives you a better picture of heart health."
Heart scans are not recommended for adults who already have heart disease or a prior heart attack or a stent in a cardiac artery.
Understanding your results
Most people who have a heart scan will walk away with a zero or very low percentage score. Knowing their hearts are healthy can provide much-needed peace of mind, especially if they have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors.
What you do matters. Know your risks. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are common risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (47 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors, reports CDC researchers.
If your calcium scores are high, a conversation with your cardiologist can help you determine next steps. Gelb notes that, “A higher score doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will have a heart attack next week. It would strongly indicate the need to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist and make a game plan to reduce risks and improve heart health.”
If the scan shows coronary calcium, a cardiologist can discuss risk reduction strategies which may include cholesterol-lowering medications, Behunin says. Cholesterol-lowering medications have been proven to prevent new plaque from forming, stabilize existing plaque, and in some cases shrink existing plaque.
"While you may not feel any different, you can have peace of mind knowing that you are doing all you can to keep your heart happy and healthy," Behunin says.
Take advantage of all that modern-day technology has to give. Take 15 minutes and $69, and stop guessing at how healthy your heart is — you deserve to know.
For more information about scheduling a scan in Salt Lake City, visit MountainStar's Heart Center at St. Mark's Hospital online or call 801-266-3418.
To schedule a scan in Utah County, visit MountainStar Heart and Vascular Center in Orem online or call 801-714-6412.