“When it comes to the heart, the numbers we focus on most relate to age, body weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. But I recommend calcium scoring as well, because it greatly adds to our ability to predict the risk of a heart attack. A calcium score is a measure of small areas of hardened (calcified) plaque in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart,” Litwin said.
Calcified plaque, or atherosclerosis, is an indicator of coronary artery disease, even when there are no obvious symptoms. Over time, progression of plaque buildup can narrow the arteries or even close off blood flow to the heart. The result may be chest pain or a heart attack.
The coronary artery calcium scan, or CAC, enables Litwin and colleagues to better estimate a patient’s heart attack risk and gauge the benefit of treatments, such as statins. The simple, non-invasive test uses computed tomography technology, a CT scan. It takes less than five minutes and causes no pain or discomfort.
A relatively novel method for predicting heart disease, the calcium scan may not be covered by health insurance, according to Litwin. It costs about $100 out of pocket at Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center.
“Because serious heart disease may not cause symptoms, diagnosis of plaque buildup can allow earlier treatment and provide patients and their doctors with valuable peace of mind,” Litwin said.
The test is particularly recommended in men age 45 to 75 and in women age 55 to 75.
For more information about coronary calcium scores, contact the Georgia Health Sciences Cardiovascular Center at 706-721-2426. To schedule a CAC, call 706-721-XRAY.
Editorial Note: Dr. Sheldon Ellis Litwin is the Chief of Cardiology for the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University. Litwin specializes in preventive cardiology and cardiac imaging, including echocardiography, cardiac MRI and cardiac computed tomography. He researches obesity and weight loss on the heart. Litwin has written more than 100 manuscripts and book chapters, has served on several National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association study sections, and is on the editorial board of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. He is a member of the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Society for Echocardiography, and the Society for Cardiac Computed Tomography.