By Mila McManus, M.D.
Almost 50% of those who suffer from a heart attack had no known risk factors.
Could this be you or someone you love? It is a rather concerning fact since it means many of us could be ticking time bombs without knowing it. Cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States¹, so there is a good reason for all of us to be concerned.
We know that heart attacks ARE preventable. So what can be done to ensure you are not in that 50% who don’t have known risk factors but may have heart attack risk?
The Calcium Score, also called the Agatston Score, for many experts, has come to be the best predictor of a future heart attack. Determining the Calcium Score is done through CT Scan testing lasting less than 3 minutes and requiring no dye. The test is a measure of the amount of calcium nestled in the walls of your coronary arteries that feed your heart muscle. It reflects the total amount of atherosclerotic plaque that has built up and is an indicator of how all of your risk factors interact with each other to cause heart disease.
A study of 44,000 individuals free of known coronary heart disease underwent the non-invasive CT scan of the heart for coronary calcium scoring and were followed for a median of five years to determine if any of them died of any cause (this is “all-cause mortality”, a good marker since three-fourths of all deaths are related to atherosclerosis). Those with a Calcium Score exceeding 400, but no risk factors, had substantially higher death rates compared to individuals with three risk factors and the absence of coronary calcium. In other words, the Calcium Score was more predictive of heart attack or other cardiovascular issues causing death than the conventional risk factors for heart disease – such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, pre-diabetes and diabetes, smoking, being overweight, high triglycerides, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Generally, all men over the age of 45, and most postmenopausal women would do well to have a heart scan to determine their Calcium Score, and especially if there are other risk factors involved. Most major medical centers do CT scans for coronary calcium and the cash cost ranges from $99-399. (In the Spring, Tx area, it’s ~$150) It’s not covered by most insurance companies yet, and therefore is not yet considered ‘standard of care’. For this reason, you’ll find that some doctors order this test routinely, while others don’t order it at all. This test has been invaluable in my practice, especially since I know that cholesterol levels can be VERY misleading in regards to assessing your risk.
Ask your medical provider if a Calcium Score heart scan would be right for you.
Facebook Review from one of our patients whose decision to have a heart scan was life-changing: