If you could know that you are five or ten years away from having a heart attack, wouldn't you want that information? That is the premise of a calcium score that can identify your risk, even with no signs or symptoms.
Lyles McDaniel is still dealing with the sudden loss of his younger brother in September. "He was in perfect health, had no preexisting conditions or anything," said McDaniel, "he played golf four times a week."
At the age of 58, his brother died from a massive heart attack. "When you lose a younger sibling that way, you kind of have a real funny feeling about your situation and your health," said McDaniel.
McDaniel took his concern to cardiologist, Dr. Michael Turner with the Regional Heart Center of CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital, to find out if he might be heading down the same road. "People who have absolutely no other risk factors, no high blood pressure, no smoking, no high cholesterol may still be at a high risk for heart attacks," said Dr. Turner.
A family history of heart attacks before age 60 should alert other family members about a possibly heightened risk and that is where cardiac CT scanning can be used to get a definite answer. "The calcium scan is a quick chest CT scan, which is done with very low radiation. It takes about ten seconds," said Dr. Turner.
The amount of calcium in the walls of the arteries is put into a calcium score and zero is the best. "If there is calcium in the walls of the arteries, it means that the process of atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks, has already started," said Dr. Turner.
The more of the plaques that are present, the higher the risk of a heart attack.
Fortunately for McDaniel, no calcified plaque was found. "It did give me a total peace of mind," he said.
With a calcium score of zero and the addition of a healthy lifestyle and diet, a patient will not have to come back for another calcium score for five years.
McDaniel says he is glad that he went through the process. "Just to find out exactly where you stand with that and get the end result of everything," said McDaniel, "it's kind of like life or death."
If a calcium score is elevated, a statin drug will be added to the patient's heart-healthy lifestyle.