February is American Heart Month, which in addition to being a handy reminder that you’ll likely need to buy something heart-shaped for a loved one for Valentine’s Day also means it’s time to spare a thought for your heart health. There are a lot of ways you can do that, including eating a better diet, getting more exercise, and getting checkups and screenings that ensure your heart is performing at an optimal level. The coronary artery calcium screening, in particular, can be helpful in identifying early heart disease signs and preventing future problems. Calcium deposits in your arteries can be an early indicator of heart disease, and finding them as early as possible can give 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,” said Blount Memorial Hospital cardiologist Dr. Jane Souther. “It all begins with plaque, which can build up and narrow your arteries. 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 these 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,” she 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.
Coronary artery calcium screenings are available at Blount Memorial Hospital at a cost of $100. The tests are self-pay, meaning no insurance or Medicaid is accepted. The entire screening process takes approximately five minutes, and a copy of your calcium score results will be mailed to your health care provider for further discussion.
For more information about calcium screenings or to schedule an appointment, call the hospital’s radiology department at 865-981-2288.