Cholesterol has been used for years as an indicator for heart disease risk. The problem is it’s not a very good indicator.
Studies show that total cholesterol levels among people who’ve had heart attacks are almost the same as those of people who haven’t, and that roughly half of heart attacks occur in people without high cholesterol.
Doctors have known this for years, but they still use cholesterol because it’s often the best indicator they have. But now that’s changing.
A heart scan (also known as a Coronary Calcium scan) is a specialized Xray test that takes pictures of your heart and can help your doctor measure calcium-containing plaque in the arteries.
Plaque can build up in your arteries and cause blood to stop flowing to your muscles. Your doctor may be able to detect possible coronary artery disease by measuring calcified plaque using a heart scan.
So this test can give you an ACTUAL picture of what is going in your arteries. And it often costs as little as $100.
Your doctor will use the results of your tests to determine what medication or lifestyle changes you need to lower your chances of having a heart attack.
Why you need one
A heart scan may be ordered by your doctor to assess your risk for heart disease and determine your treatment options.
Multidetector row (or multislice computerizedtomography (CT) is a special X-ray technique used for heart scans. Multiple images are created that show plaque deposits in blood vessels. A heart scan can provide an early indication of the presence of plaque.
Plaque is composed of fats and cholesterol as well as calcium. Plaque develops slowly over time and is often not apparent as a sign or symptom of any disease. These deposits can block the flow of oxygen-rich plasma to the heart muscles. Plaque can also burst, which could cause a blood clot and a heart attack.
What is the purpose of a heart scan?
If you are at low or moderate risk for heart disease, or have not been diagnosed with it yet, a heart scan can help guide your treatment. Based on your risk factors, your doctor will tell you if a heart scan might be beneficial for you.
People at moderate risk may be motivated by a heart scan to change their lifestyle and follow treatment plans.
There are risks
Radiation is used in heart scans using X-ray technology. It is safe to be exposed to about the same radiation as you are naturally exposed to over a year.
Heart scans are offered by many medical facilities and walk in centers as a quick way to determine your risk of having a heart attack. These scans are not covered by insurance and don’t require a referral. You might also find similar information in blood tests or blood pressure monitoring, which are often less costly.
How to prepare
These are the questions to ask when scheduling your appointment for a heart scan:
- Do you need any additional instructions?
- What time should I arrive?
- What documentation or identification do I need?
Food and medication
Before the test, you may be asked to stop smoking and caffeine for at least four hours.
Clothing and Personal Items
You will need to remove all clothing that is above your waistline and wear a gown. Also, you will need to take off jewelry from your neck and chest.
What to expect
During the procedure
The technician attaches electrodes to your chest before the scan starts. These sensors connect to a device that records heart activity and coordinates the timings of X-ray images between heartbeats.
You lie down on your back on a moving table that slides into the tube during the heart scan. CT scanner. Your head will be outside the scanner all the time. It will be cool in the exam room.
A pill or an injection may be used to slow down your heart rate. This allows for clear images. You may receive medication to calm you down if you feel anxious or nervous.
While the photos are being taken, you will be asked to remain still and hold your breath for several seconds. The scanner is operated from a nearby room, so the technician can still see you and speak to you. The whole procedure will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
Following the procedure
After a heart scan, there are usually no additional precautions. You should be able drive yourself home and carry on with your normal activities.
The Agatston score is the number that indicates the result of the test. This score is a combination of the calcium deposit area and calcium density.
- Zero means that no calcium is detected in the heart. This indicates a low risk of developing a future heart attack.
- Calcium levels are high in calcium-rich areas. This increases your risk of developing heart disease.
- Scores between 100 and 300 indicate moderate plaque deposits. This is associated with a high risk of having a heart attack or another heart disease in the next three to five year.
- Scores greater than 300 are a sign that you have a very high or severe risk of developing heart disease.
A percentile score is also possible, which shows how calcium rich you are compared to other people your age and with the same sex.
A heart scan should not be considered a single indicator of your overall health or risk of developing heart disease. You should combine the results of a heart scan with other information about your health.
Talking about the results with your doctor
The results of your heart scan will be discussed with you by your doctor. One or more of these strategies may be required depending on the outcome.
- There is no change to the current treatment plan
- Different dosages or medication
- Make changes to your exercise and diet routine
- New weight loss goals
- Additional tests
- You will be seen regularly for follow-up visits to assess your health and plan for treatment.