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Health Spotlight: Scans for coronary calcium score could predict heart attacks

Health Spotlight: Know your coronary calcium score

(WISH) — A simple scan that costs $99 could predict a heart attack.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, and affects all ages, races and genders. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a person every 33 seconds dies from coronary artery disease.

From monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes to undergoing mammograms, prostate specific antigen screenings, pap tests, HIV tests and skin cancer examinations, the roster of recommended medical tests gets longer and longer as people age.

Get ready to add another to the list.

Dr. Pamela Rama, a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists in Jacksonville, Florida, said, “The coronary calcium score is actually a CAT scan. It takes two minutes to acquire the images and very little radiation is involved. What it does is it looks at your coronary arteries to see if there’s any calcium in your coronary arteries, and, if we find calcium, it’s equivalent to having coronary artery disease.”

The scan is then used to create a scale from zero to 400. A score of zero means there’s no plaque present. The higher the score, the more plaque. But, Rama says, even a low score doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

“Even a score of 1 means that you have coronary artery disease. What draws the calcium into the coronary arteries is cholesterol plaque. So, for me, it’s the best predictor of cardiac events that we have so far.”

Not only can the determine risk, but the doctor also uses it to determine if her patients need cholesterol medications, such as statins. “When I have patients who have high cholesterol levels and their coronary calcium score is zero I actually stop their statin therapy and they love it.”

The only people who don’t need the test? Anyone who has already been diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

Rama says it’s not a test that needs to be repeated every year. But, she does suggest repeating it in five years if you score zero.

She recommends it for people older than 45, or younger if heart disease runs in the family

The scan is usually covered by insurance.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.