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In the fight against heart disease, a heart scan can help identify early build-up of calcium in the coronary arteries (the most common cause of heart disease) before you have symptoms.
A heart scan involves getting a CT scan of the chest. The simple, painless and potentially lifesaving procedure takes about 15 minutes and measures the amount of calcium in the arteries.
“It’s a marker for plaque,” says nurse educator Angela Grossman.
Heart scans are recommended for men over the age of 40 and women over the age of 45 with one or more of the following risk factors:
What exactly is involved in a heart scan?
Because caffeine can speed up your heart rate, you will be asked to refrain from any beverages or foods that contain caffeine for four hours before your procedure.
During the procedure, you will lay on a table for the CT scan. Four electrodes will be placed on your chest to capture your heart rhythm during the exam. The scan itself takes less than five minutes, Grossman says.
After the scan, you will meet with a registered nurse to review preliminary results of the scan. You will receive preliminary numbers and, if you request it, your blood can be drawn to check cholesterol and glucose levels. You will want to follow-up with your primary care physician to further review your test results.
For many, a heart scan serves as a tool to address early warning signs of heart disease.
“The heart scan can start showing a patient that they have early disease and what needs to be done to minimize the progression of that,” Grossman says, adding that making lifestyle changes such as adopting a heart healthy diet, exercising and quitting smoking can make a difference when heart disease is detected early.
She added that the scan also helps in identifying those patients who need to be on medication to address high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Other patients may find additional medical procedures are needed.
The result of the test is given as a number called a score, which reflects the extent of calcium in the arteries. Some patients with higher scores may find they need medical interventions, such as stents, to address plaque buildup or blockage of the arteries.
A score of zero means you have no identifiable plaque and you should return in five years for another scan, Grossman says. Those with scores above zero may return for a repeat scan in three years. It is important you discuss your individual results with your physician to determine next steps.
You do not need a physician’s order to schedule a heart scan. Schedule a heart scan online today.
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