Those who suffer with heart disease—or present with multiple cardiovascular risk factors—are often under the care of a cardiologist. At the very least, their primary care provider is aware of their condition and will advise on treatment protocols.
What about people who show no signs of heart disease but are, in fact, at risk?
Heart disease screening, in the form of CT cardiac calcium scoring, may reveal coronary arteries blocked or narrowed by plaque buildup. Sara Sturmer, medical imaging manager at Stoughton Hospital, explains why this screening is so beneficial—and why those benefits far outweigh the very minimal risk of radiation exposure from the scan.
“We’re able to identify calcium or plaque in the arteries in the early states, in patients who have no symptoms. It’s a low-dose CT scan, so there is a little bit of risk involved from a radiation standpoint, but it’s about the same amount of radiation you would be exposed to in an annual timeframe just walking on Earth.”
Who Should Have the Scan?
Ideal candidates for the calcium scoring include asymptomatic men over 40 and women over 50 who also have one of the following risk factors: high cholesterol, family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, history of cigarette smoking, obesity, or physical inactivity.
The calcium scoring exam is a simple procedure, lasting about 15 minutes from start to finish. “We hook you up to EKG connections, just like we would for a heart monitoring device, and we watch for a normal rhythm. Once we have that, we’re able to scan,” shares Sturmer. “The table on which you’re lying moves into the CT scanner, which does a quick scan. The technologist creates a report of results and gives it to the radiologist, who then provides a dictation or an interpretation of the exam to the patient’s provider.”
What Happens If Plaque Is Present?
If plaque is discovered, one’s primary care provider helps identify next steps. This could be referral to a cardiologist to discuss risk factors and concerns about the score. Or, a provider may consider a patient’s full health history and health habits and advise on how they can reduce risk of developing even more plaque buildup—or even improve their condition.
“People can actually change their risk,” assures Sturmer. “Talk to your primary care provider, who can help you create a plan and help you manage a healthy lifestyle. Understanding your risks can be a great incentive to making changes.”
For more information on the calcium scoring test, please go to https://stoughtonhealth.com/health-services/screenings/.