Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring
Are you at risk of a heart attack?
More than a million Americans have a heart attack each year accordingto the American Heart Association, and almost half of them are fatal.
As with many things in life, some of the factors that could contribute to you having a heart attack are out of your control. Take your age, for instance. If you’re a man over the age of 45, or a woman over 50, you are more likely to be at risk. Then there’s gender. Men are at greater risk of heart attack than women, and have attacks earlier in life. Last, there’s your family history — you’re more likely to be at risk if your parents had heart disease. Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes, and African Americans are at higher risk because theytypically have more severe high blood pressure.
While you have to play the cards you’re dealt when it comes to age, sex, and heredity, there are even more things that are in your control: smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and being overweight. Reducing these factors won’t necessarily guarantee you won’t have a heart attack, but it can definitely improve your hand. Another thing that can help stack the deck in your favor? A calcium scoring CT (Computed Tomography) scan.
Calcium builds up in our heart vessels along with plaque from fat in our diet. This can stiffen the vessels and form fissures or cracks that can turn into clots. When clots rupture, they block blood flow triggering a heart attack. We can use drugs to treat the high blood pressure that can cause tension in blood vessels, and statin medications like Lipitor, Zocor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Crestor to lower cholesterol and limit the buildup of plaque. But it’s important to know how much plaque is in your arteries. That’s where the calcium scoring test comes in.
Calcium scoring scans are painless, easy, and can be completed within 10 to 15 minutes. A technologist positions you on the table, electrodes are attached to your chest connecting you to an electrocardiograph machine that records the electrical activity in your heart, and then the CT table moves slowly through the machine as the scan is done. The only thing you have to do is hold your breath for up to 15 seconds while images are recorded. Because these scans are noninvasive, you can usually resume normal activities immediately.
Having an accurate idea of your calcium buildup can help your doctor to prescribe the best course of action to heart health. If you’re currently taking heart medication, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a life sentence. Based on a total examination, including a calcium scoring test, your physician may advise that certain cardiac medications are no longer needed.
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