A test to detect heart disease before symptoms occur
Staying on top of your heart health isn't always a top priority. Beyond a heart-healthy diet, there are simple
steps you can take to ensure you're doing everything you can to avoid a scary cardiac event. Unfortunately, many patients who experience a heart event never suspected that anything was wrong in the first place. One tool used by physicians to protect your heart health is a CT heart scan, in which results are measured by your calcium score. This test helps evaluate your risk for a cardiac event, even before symptoms occur. Here are the facts about heart scan calcium scoring and why you may consider it:
CT stands for computerized tomography
Never heard of it? It’s also known as computerized axial tomography, so you may know this procedure as a CAT scan. It’s a simple, noninvasive procedure that uses advanced high-speed X-ray technology to create a picture of your heart’s arteries. It measures the calcium deposits that are part of atherosclerotic plaque within your arteries, from which doctors calculate a calcium score.
The purpose of the test is preventive. The calcium score helps predict your chance of developing heart health problems in the future–the higher the score, the greater your risk. A high score warrants a talk with your doctor about treatment options or lifestyle changes you can make now before something goes wrong.
Who should have a CT scan?
Calcium scoring is generally recommended for men 40 years or older, and women 45 years and older, who have no current symptoms but who do have other health conditions that increase the risk of heart disease. Those factors include:
- A family history of heart disease
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low HDL, or good cholesterol
- A sedentary lifestyle
Occasionally patients ask about radiation exposure during tests such as the CT scan. To minimize risk, Ridgeview uses a Siemens CT scanner that greatly reduces the dose of radiation. Compared to earlier machines that were available, the most recent technology enhancements have lowered radiation doses by 30 percent to 60 percent.
Heart scan calcium scoring isn’t foolproof
Although CT scans can be very valuable, they are not 100 percent conclusive, because calcium isn’t the only factor that could be responsible for artery blockages. In other words, you could have a low calcium score but still be at risk for heart disease.
Whether you’re at risk or not, you shouldn’t need a test to tell you that improving your lifestyle by eating healthier, exercising regularly and not smoking will benefit your heart. On the other hand, seeing an “official” high calcium score may be the motivation someone needs to make those lifestyle improvements.
If detected early, heart disease can be managed well before it becomes a life-threatening situation. That’s ample reason to talk to your doctor about your heart health and to ask whether you’re a possible candidate for a CT scan or heart tests.
Ridgeview Medical Center is an independent, nonprofit, regional health care system located just 35 minutes west of Minneapolis on Highway 5. Its network includes two hospitals—located in Waconia and Arlington—a multitude of primary and specialty care clinics (including OB/GYN clinics in Chaska and Chanhassen), emergency services and specialty programs, and Two Twelve Medical Center in Chaska—a free-standing 24/7 emergency and urgent care facility with multi-specialty clinics and services.