Posted: Monday, December 6, 2021

Assessing Your Heart Disease Risk

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s time to put the money in your flexible savings account (FSA) to good use. Of course, you could always use those pre-tax dollars on things like routine check-ups and additional pairs of glasses, but you also could consider taking steps to protect your heart. One way to do so is by getting a high-tech screening for heart disease. Calcium deposits in your arteries can be an early sign of heart disease, and finding these deposits early can help prevent future problems by giving you the opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes that promote overall cardiac health. This is why it can be beneficial to have a coronary artery calcium screening.

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.

Coronary artery calcium screenings are available at Blount Memorial Hospital. The tests cost $100 and are self-pay, meaning no insurance or Medicaid is accepted. You can, however, use your flexible savings account dollars. 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 865-977-5566.

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