Heart scans uncover problems early and save lives

July 05, 2016 | by Kevin Callison
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Even people who are sticklers about getting regular screenings for cancer of the colon, breast or prostate may be unaware of a cardiac screening, called the calcium scoring heart scan. Yet, this screening is just as important.

Heart disease is often a “silent” disease with no symptoms, or ones that are barely noticeable. You could be at risk and not realize it. This screening test can help detect heart disease early so you can reduce your risk. What’s involved?

The painless, 10-minute scan measures calcium build-up in the coronary arteries. This calcium score matters because heart disease begins when plaque forms, builds up and calcifies in the arteries. When plaque and other materials sufficiently block the flow of blood to the heart, the result is a heart attack.

The heart scan is appropriate for men over 40 and women over 45 who have any of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, a family history of heart disease or a past or current smoking habit.

When you come to Edward-Elmhurst Health for the heart scan, it also includes a free lipid profile, a glucose measure, a blood pressure reading and a consultation with a cardiac nurse who will help you assess your risk of cardiac disease over the next 10 years.

Your calcium score and other risk indicators will determine what type of follow-up treatment you will need. For example:

  • If you have little or no calcium build up and moderate risk factors, your doctor may simply remind you to stay on top of cholesterol and blood pressure management, and watch your diet and exercise.
  • Higher scores may prompt additional cardiac testing. This might be followed by putting you on one or more medications to lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and/or prevent blood clots.
  • A positive calcium score may indicate an increased risk for a cardiac event in the next five years. Depending on the results of additional cardiac testing, the next step may be cardiac catheterization, a procedure to pinpoint the location and extent of the blockage. A catheter is inserted into your groin and threaded through the arteries to the site of the blockage. Treatment in the form of an angioplasty may follow, involving insertion of another catheter, this time with a balloon-tip. The balloon is inflated at the site of the blockage to push the plaque out of the way; in some cases one or more stents are then inserted to hold the artery open.
  • Some cases of severe blockage call for bypass surgery, in which an alternate route for blood flow is created by removing a healthy vein or artery from another part of your body and grafting it near the narrowed coronary artery.

Edward-Elmhurst has had this heart scan since the late '90s and performed the test on more than 30,000 people. For some patients, it provided peace of mind. For others, it saved their lives.

Learn more about heart screenings at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

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