Calcium Scoring CT Can Help Detect Heart Health Risk

CMC Amy Milton with CT
Cumberland Medical Center’s Amy Milton is an imaging supervisor and supports in CT where Calcium Scoring CTs are performed on outpatients to identify heart health concerns.

Many middle-aged adults with apparently healthy hearts have a “silent” buildup of fatty deposits in their arteries, according to a study published in the journal Circulation. It evaluated the heart health of Swedish adults with no history of heart attack or procedures.

Researchers found that of more than 25,000 people ages 50 to 64-year-olds, about 42 percent had signs of atherosclerosis — a buildup of “plaques” in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

That was despite the fact that none had any history of heart trouble.

Experts said the high rate of “silent” atherosclerosis was not surprising. Other, smaller studies had suggested as much.

But the new results — from a random sample of the general population in Sweden — confirm the condition is widespread in middle-aged people.

“It’s a really important study because of the representative population,” said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association. “Forty-two percent of people in this age group do indeed have some plaques in their arteries. And it’s important to focus attention on that.”

Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent atherosclerosis from resulting in a heart attack or stroke: Controlling high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol and high blood sugar, quitting smoking, and sticking with a healthy diet and regular exercise are among them, the study authors said.

“Working on these risk factors is very important in this age span,” said Dr. Goran Bergstrom, the lead researcher on the study and a professor at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden.

In the study, participants had a Calcium Scoring CT scan to help measure atherosclerosis.


Calcium Scoring with CT

During calcium screening, a low-dose CT scan is used to detect calcium deposits in the heart arteries, because calcium is a component of plaques. This is a non-invasive scan that uses a minimal amount of radiation to help detect heart health concerns.

Currently, calcium screening is a standard test, Lloyd-Jones said. Doctors may use it when there’s uncertainty about whether to prescribe a statin, which are cholesterol-lowering drugs that cut the risk of heart attack and stroke.

That uncertainty can arise, for example, when a patient has an “intermediate” risk of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years — because of factors like age and blood pressure — but has LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels that fall short of “high.”

A calcium score of zero means there is no detectable calcium in the arteries, and those people are often considered to be low-risk for a heart attack.

“To me, this confirms that [calcium] scoring does a spectacular job,” Lloyd-Jones said.


Is a Calcium Scoring CT Right for You?

According to the American Heart Association, the following major contributors and other risk factors for heart disease are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Being overweight

Insurance coverage varies, however, Cumberland Medical Center offers this self-pay Calcium Scoring test for $99. The test lets you know how much calcium buildup (plaque) is present in your coronary (heart) arteries. You can talk with your physician about your results.

For more information, or to schedule a Calcium Scoring CT test at Cumberland Medical Center, call 931-459-7040 with your physician order.

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