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Why Is The Detection of Coronary Artery Calcium So Important?
Coronary artery disease is the #1 killer in the U.S.. The sad fact is many of these deaths could have been prevented because many of the underlying causes of coronary disease are controllable. Most people with coronary artery disease don't know they have it because they have no symptoms. More than half the time, it's only discovered after the person has a heart attack or dies suddenly. Conventional risk factors (such as the amount of cholesterol in the blood) fail to explain nearly half of all heart attacks and cardiac deaths. Studies have shown that coronary calcium scores can predict coronary artery disease with significantly higher accuracy than standard risk factors.
How Can A Coronary Artery Calcium Score Help You?
Early detection and treatment of coronary artery disease are the best defense. Arterial calcium indicates the presence of coronary artery disease. The calcium score itself can be used to calculate arterial age, which is helpful for determining proper treatment. For example, consider a 48 year-old man who has a calcium score of 210. The NIH's Arterial Age Calculator indicates that he has the arteries of a 78 year-old. Such a patient would be well advised to consult a physician who could recommend diet modification, a regular exercise program, and/or prescribe medication such as a statin. Controlling the causes of atherosclerosis has been shown to slow the rate of progression of coronary artery disease, and in some cases aggressive treatment has been shown to reverse it. Treating coronary artery disease early is always preferable to treating it after it has become more severe and symptomatic. By the way, the person with the calcium score of 210 at the age of 48 was Tim Russert. Ten years later he died of a heart attack. It was his first symptom of coronary disease.
Is a Stress Test a Substitute for a Calcium Score?
No. Stress tests only become abnormal once arteries are severely (>50-70%) blocked. A calcium score is a measure of the amount of calcified atherosclerotic plaque, not a measure of arterial narrowing. There are many patients who have a lot of atherosclerotic plaque, but who do not yet have an artery that is blocked enough to make a stress test abnormal. These patients are at increased risk for a heart attack or sudden death, and would likely benefit from early detection and treatment. Bill Clinton needed quadruple bypass surgery soon after leaving office, despite having had several normal stress tests as President. Undoubtedly, a calcium score - or a coronary CTA - would have given him and his physicians more information about the state of his coronary arteries.
How Is A Coronary Artery Calcium Scan Performed?
A coronary artery calcium scan is completely non-invasive. There are no finger sticks, intravenous catheters, or blood drawing. Calcium scans are performed on a state-of-the-art CT scanner, involving very little radiation exposure. The test takes 5 minutes to perform. All scans are interpreted by a radiologist.
Who Should Have This Test?
In general, people who are of intermediate risk benefit most. People are often considered intermediate risk if they have 2 or more of the following:
* Age (Men > 40, Women > 50)
* High blood pressure
* High cholesterol
A physician's prescription is required. If you do not have a physician's prescription, you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Steven Wolff. Your study will be performed and the results will be explained to you during your office visit.
Contact Us to learn the extent of your coronary artery disease - while hopefully it's still early!