Posted: Monday, February 12, 2018

Predicting Your Risk for Heart Disease

February is American Heart Month, which means it’s time to buy those heart-shaped candy boxes, right? Wrong – well, you probably should do that, too, but that’s not the reason for the distinction. American Heart Month is a time to focus on your heart health, which means eating a better diet, getting more exercise, and getting checkups and screenings that ensure your heart is performing at an optimal level.

One of these tests is a coronary artery calcium screening for heart disease. Calcium deposits in your arteries can be an early sign of heart disease, and finding them early can help prevent future problems by giving you the opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes that promote overall cardiac health.

Coronary artery disease is one of the leading causes of heart attacks. Blount Memorial Hospital cardiologist Dr. Jane Souther says it all begins with plaque. “It generally occurs when plaque builds up, narrowing your arteries,” she said. “The plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and calcium. A coronary artery calcium screening is a quick and painless CT (computerized tomography) scan of the heart that can detect the amount of calcium present, which is used to calculate a ‘calcium score.’ When combined with other information, the calcium score can help determine your risk for coronary heart disease or heart attack,” Souther explained. Souther says the screenings can be most helpful to people with an intermediate risk for heart disease. This group includes those who have one or more risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, tobacco use, or a strong family history of premature coronary disease. “Knowing your calcium score also could be valuable if you are at an intermediate risk for heart attack and are experiencing chest discomfort,” Souther said.

Still, a calcium score is not something that will benefit everyone. Souther says it will not affect two specific groups of people. “A calcium score is not useful if you have a low or high heart attack risk,” Souther said. “If you are young, have normal cholesterol levels, normal blood pressure, do not smoke and do not have a strong family history of premature coronary disease, your heart attack risk is calculated at less than 10 percent,” she explained. “If you’ve already had a heart attack or a procedure such as an angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting to treat coronary artery disease, a calcium score will not give you any helpful information,” she added.

Blount Memorial will be offering coronary artery calcium screenings, along with carotid and aorta scans, echocardiograms and cholesterol screenings, at a Heart and Vascular Screening Event on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at East Tennessee Medical Group, located at 266 Joule St. in Alcoa. Space is limited, and advance appointments are required. To register for one or more tests, visit

In addition to the screenings, a number of Blount Memorial physicians and clinicians will be onsite at the event for one-on-one opportunities with guests. A health expo with booths focusing on heart and sleep health, stroke, fitness and nutrition information, as well as refreshments, door prizes and giveaways, also will be available.

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