January 14th, 2013

 Heart disease is a prevalent and deadly ailment in the United States. Early detection is important to successfully treating and even reversing the condition. To help identify potential heart disease, Great River Medical Center offers cardiac calcium scoring – a painless, safe and accurate test that estimates a patient’s heart attack risk by measuring (scoring) calcium build up in the coronary arteries.

“Cardiac calcium scoring is a more powerful predictor of heart disease episodes because of coronary artery disease than cholesterol screening,” said radiologist Steven Davis, M.D., medical director of Great River Medical Center’s Diagnostic Imaging Department. “The information it provides can give patients the opportunity to seek treatment and make appropriate changes.”

During cardiac calcium scoring testing, patients lie down on their backs, and they are scanned in a computed tomography (CT) unit. Special images are taken of the heart while the patient holds his or her breath for about 20 seconds. A cardiac calcium scoring examination does not involve injections, treadmills or any other preparation, such as fasting. Special cardiac-scoring software measures the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries. Radiologists interpret the information and send the results to the patient’s physician within a week after the test. The physician’s office will contact the patient about the test results.

“Cardiac calcium scoring is not intended to replace routine medical evaluations by a physician,” Dr. Davis said. “The test gives patients and their physicians additional information on which to base changes and treatment decisions.”

The cost of this screening test is $125, which includes the examination and radiologist’s report. Payment is required at the time of the test. Cash and credit cards are accepted. If patients have commercial insurers, they should contact them to determine coverage. Cardiac calcium scoring is not usually covered by insurance for patients not having cardiac symptoms. If patients are having symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, they should contact their physicians immediately for evaluations.

A physician referral is required for a cardiac calcium scoring examination. Those interested should talk to their physicians.

About heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in most industrialized nations. Someone can have heart disease for many years without showing symptoms. Consider the following statistics:

  • Eighty-five percent of sudden heart attacks may be prevented if the conditions that lead to the attack are diagnosed early enough.
  • Forty-five percent of all heart attacks occur in people under age 65.
  • Forty-four percent of women who have heart attacks die within a year after the attack.
  • Heart disease claims more lives than lung, colon, prostate and breast cancer combined.
  • More than 33 percent of all Americans who have a heart attack each year show no symptoms.
  • Women are 10 times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer.

The most common risk factors for heart disease and heart attack are:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High-stress way of life
  • Men over age 40; women over age 50
  • Overweight by 20 percent or more
  • Sedentary way of life
  • Smoking