ATLANTA (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of heart attack in the United States. To prevent it, doctors are now taking a new interest in something they always knew was there.
Stewart Phinizy is a real estate shark. In the business for 45 years, he knows all there is to know about selling, but it was the state of his health that came as a surprise.
"I never thought that I had any issues with my health," Phinizy told Ivanhoe.
But there was an issue, his arteries.
"They said looks like you have some blockage," Phinizy explained. "I wasn't feeling bad, this is the scary part, I wasn't really feeling bad."
Cardiologist Dr. Sheldon Litwin said that's not uncommon.
"A heart attack can be the first symptom in somebody that didn't have any warning signs before it," Sheldon Litwin, M.D., Chief of cardiology at Georgia Health Sciences University told Ivanhoe.
That's why he said getting your calcium score checked is so important.
"Plaque is usually composed of cholesterol but there are also some components, some pieces of calcium that often develop within those plaques," Dr. Litwin explained.
Like cholesterol and fat, calcium can build up on the arteries and reduce blood flow to the heart. Traditional testing like stress tests, require severe blockage to come out positive, but the calcium score test allows doctors to detect plaque in the vessels at a very early stage. The non-invasive five-minute test uses a CT scan to better estimate a patient's heart attack risk and gauges the benefit of certain heart treatments, like statins.
A new study in the Lancet found patients who had no symptoms of heart disease but did have a buildup of calcium (even those with low cholesterol) had twice the risk for heart attack or stroke and four times the risk for heart disease than those with a calcium score of zero.
"Somebody who has a calcium score of zero, the chance over the next 5 years of having a heart attack is well under 1 percent probably less than half of 1 percent," Dr. Litwin said.
While a normal calcium score is 200, Dr. Litwin said depending on your age, a score of 100 could be alarming. He believes this test could ultimately save lives.
"It's going to be unavoidable as we age, but the goal is to slow the process down as much as we can," Dr. Litwin said.
As for Phinizy, he had a score of 125 and needed surgery.
"I was expecting to have one stent at my age and I have three," Phinizy concluded.
It's a simple test with a lot of power.
The test is recommended for men over 45 and women over 55. Dr. Litwin said the best way to avoid a high score is to maintain a normal body weight and watch your salt intake.
BACKGROUND: Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. CHD is also called coronary artery disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women.
Coronary heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries to your heart. This may also be called hardening of the arteries.
Fatty material and other substances form a plaque build-up on the walls of your coronary arteries. The coronary arteries bring blood and oxygen to your heart.
This buildup causes the arteries to get narrow.
As a result, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. (Source: PubMed Health)
CALCIFIED ARTERIES? According to the Framingham Heart Study of the National Institutes of Health, nearly half of all coronary deaths affect people with no history of heart disease symptoms. For them, a fatal heart attack or sudden death is the first and last hint of a problem. Calcium (along with fat and cholesterol) is a major part of plaque. Calcium scores range from zero (no detectable plaque) to several thousand (extensive plaque). (Source: The New York Times)
TESTING YOUR CALCIUM SCORE: The procedure saves lives by detecting heart disease early enough to allow intensive therapy -- with cholesterol-lowering drugs, for example -- to keep it in check. Studies have shown there are no 'false positive' scans, because calcium deposits turn up in coronary arteries only when they are associated with plaque.
It is frequently done at commercial imaging centers, using a CT scan. Any calcium deposits will stand out clearly. After the scan, software analyzes all the images and calculates a cumulative calcium score based on the size and density of the deposits. The results are immediately available. A study published in the Journal of Circulation found calcium scans to be a better predictor of coronary events than looking at conventional risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. ( Source: Journal of Circulation, The New York Times)
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