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How only 15 minutes saves lives
March 23, 2017

How can people tell when they’re close to having a heart attack? The truth is the signs of pending heart trouble are usually extremely subtle and often hard to recognize. Another hard fact is that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The good news is that a quick, affordable scan has changed the landscape of predicting heart attacks. And most people don’t even know that it’s available.

“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, cardiologist at MountainStar Heart and Vascular Center. “The score is obtained through a noninvasive heart scan that takes about 15 minutes to perform. It immediately provides easy-to-understand results.”

The best part? Some imaging facilities provide the coronary calcium scan for as little as $69, including Mountain View Hospital in Payson and Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem. That’s a small price for a lot of peace of mind.

Heart scans literally save lives, and here’s how:

What the scan measures

Heart disease stems from plaque build-up or calcification in cardiac arteries caused by a combination of cholesterol, calcium and various cellular components. The coronary calcium scan measures the amount of calcification in the arteries and better identifies blockages. It provides a percentage score that many cardiologists view as the most accurate predictor of a future cardiovascular event, especially a heart attack or stroke.

The heart scan score provides a far more practical view of what is going on in a heart than other tests. For example, while treadmill tests are informative, they are not able to flag patients as being at risk if they have an artery that is less than 60–70 percent blocked. The coronary calcium score identifies early plaque buildup BEFORE it causes obstruction.

How the scan works

The coronary calcium scan takes no longer than 15 minutes, during which a person rests comfortably as a computed tomography or CT scanner takes images of their heart. The technology features a large, open tube shaped like a doughnut and typically does not trouble anyone who has claustrophobia. Most of the time, people wear loose-fitting clothes rather than getting into a hospital gown. “After the scan, patients get results immediately and their doctors get them within a couple of days,” says Dr. Gelb. “The closer the personal score is to zero, the better.” Each heart scan score is compared to an average among people of similar age and gender. It enables a quick but accurate comparison of personal risk using easy-to-understand information.

Can scans help everyone?

Anyone looking for peace of mind about their heart can choose to have a heart scan. However, it is most useful for those who are over 35 years of age and have one or more risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking or a family history of early onset heart disease. The heart scan is not recommended for adults who already have heart disease, like a prior heart attack or a stent in a cardiac artery.

Peace of Mind

The majority of people who have a heart scan walk away with a zero or very low percentage score. Given that reassurance, they can be confident that their hearts are healthy, even if they have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors. The scan may also allow people to put off taking a cholesterol medication for a while. As many as 1 in 3 patients who are considered “high risk” for a heart attack actually have a zero coronary calcium score.

Dr. 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.” In many cases, eating healthier foods and exercising to lose weight and stopping smoking as well as controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol can greatly reduce the risk of a sudden heart attack. Sometimes these lifestyle changes are combined with a daily aspirin regimen and/or a cholesterol lowering medication.

The bottom line? Now you can accurately evaluate your heart health – on your own time, in just 15 minutes, and for only $69 dollars. Isn’t that better than being suddenly rushed to an emergency room because of an unexpected heart attack?

For more information visit MountainStar's Heart and Vascular Center online or call 801-714-6412.