Calcium Score Test Measures True Risk

| 6/11/2014 11:03:00 AM

EKGCould you possibly have enough plaque in your arteries to put you at high risk of deadly heart disease and yet have normal cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight? New research says absolutely yes, but it also reveals that a calcium score test can accurately measure your true risk.

How do you know if you have heart disease, the number one killer in America? While some people have symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, most people have no symptoms at all. In fact, for many, the first symptom is death. But it doesn’t have to be that way: The calcium score test is a quick, easy, non-invasive, $99 test that finds heart disease before it turns deadly.

Calcium Score Tests are Advantageous

Most imaging tests that visualize the arteries that supply the heart are expensive, time-consuming, invasive, and/or risky, and some of them just don’t do a very good job of confirming the presence of calcified plaques clogging the heart’s arteries. Doctors and researchers have been debating for years whether it’s worth it to look for heart disease in patients with no symptoms, given the expense and invasiveness of most of these tests. In the last few years, however, more studies support and more doctors are recommending the coronary artery calcium score test as an easy, quick, inexpensive, and relatively safe way to visualize coronary artery disease.

What Is a Calcium Score Test?

The coronary artery calcium score test is a painless test done by a CT scanner. It supplies less radiation than a chest CT and does not require any IV or contrast dyes, as do many of the other imaging tests. This test measures calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. The calcium is part of the calcified (hardened) plaques, which are gradually formed due to inflammation and oxidized cholesterol and fats in the walls of arteries. The amount of calcium seen on CT is related to the amount of underlying coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries of the heart), the hallmark of coronary heart disease.

Heart Scan

Better at Predicting Heart Attacks

New studies, just presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 2014 Scientific Sessions, show calcium score tests to be better at predicting long-term heart problems than other available tests, particularly when evaluating low-risk patients.[1] A Houston Methodist Hospital study, for instance, found that coronary calcium testing in people with no heart disease symptoms is definitely worthwhile. Nearly 1,000 patients, most of whom were considered low risk for heart disease, were given a calcium score test and a plain exercise treadmill stress test and then tracked for seven years. The coronary calcium score test proved a far better predictor of risk. Lead study author Su Min Chang, M.D., said the results show that calcium scoring can help catch patients who are on the way to developing heart disease earlier than other available tests.

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