You get regular checkups, so you know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. But do you know your calcium score? A simple cardiac CT scan gives a more accurate view of your heart health than a basic physical ever could. The non-invasive screening also helps your doctor diagnose some cardiac conditions that increase your risk for heart attack and other cardiovascular complications.
How the Test Works
A cardiac calcium screening uses a CT scan to take pictures of your coronary arteries. Unlike a x-ray, a CT scan can take multiple pictures of your bones, internal organs, and other structures. The images produced have enough clarity and detail that your doctor will be able to see any plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries.
After evaluating the results of your CT scan, the doctor will determine your calcium score. Also called an Agatson score, a normal reading (meaning no calcium is present) is zero. The higher your number, the more plaque is present in your coronary arteries. If your calcium score is relatively high, the doctor may recommend further testing.
Why that Score Matters
Calcium is good for you, right? It is, except when it’s in your heart. Calcium deposits accumulate there due to plaque in your arteries. Plaque is made up of fats and other substances, which cling to the inner walls of the arteries and harden (calcify) over time. Once the plaque has calcified, the patient has a condition called atherosclerosis, also known as coronary artery disease (CAD).
CAD increases a patient’s risk of heart attack. Plaque can build up and completely block the artery, or clots can form on the plaque, then travel to other parts of the body, leading to a heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm. Getting an accurate picture of your risk for heart attack and other serious cardiovascular problems provides the information you and your doctor need to make better decisions about your heart health.
Although it’s impossible to reverse hardening of the arteries, it is possible to change your habits and protect your heart from further damage. Your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes, including diet modifications and increased physical activity.
If calcium blockage is severe, the doctor may also suggest an interventional treatment. One of the most common is a balloon angioplasty. During this procedure, the heart surgeon inserts a catheter into the artery. On the end of the artery is a balloon. The surgeon places the balloon against the plaque and inflates it. The balloon causes pressure against the blockage, breaking it up so that blood can flow more freely through the artery again.
Ready to take the next step in protecting your heart? For more information or to schedule a calcium screening, call the Central Florida Regional Hospital CT Department at (407) 833-7328.