How 5 Minutes Could Prevent a Heart Attack
Ashley Jowett

How 5 Minutes Could Prevent a Heart Attack

In the past, there was only one way to predict someone’s likelihood of having a heart attack; we considered risk factors. People with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of heart disease, smokers, and people with a sedentary lifestyle were considered at greater risk, as were those who are male and over the age of 45 or female and over the age of 55. From there we made recommendations about lifestyle changes or medications they could use to bring their risk down.

This method of predicting risk was good enough, because it was all we had. Now, we are fortunate to have a medical test, specifically for people who are medium-to-high risk of having a heart attack. Note: This test is not for low risk individuals. It’s called calcium scoring. Through advanced imaging, we can measure the calcium on the inside of your vessels. We translate the amount of vessel-hardening calcium we find into a “score.” The higher your score the greater the likelihood of heart attack.

The score can go on to help us make better-informed decisions for patients. For instance, someone might have risk factors for a heart attack but have a low calcium score.  The lower your calcium score is the less plaque is present and the less risk there is for heart disease.  The test allows us to determine that with more accuracy than ever before. We can go on to use that information to help us make better recommendations for the patient.

Here’s what you need to know:

Getting registered for the test is easy, too. First, consult your insurance provider regarding whether the test is covered. If not, the cost of the test is just $100 when you pay on the day of your visit. A $25 fee for reading the test will be billed. Next, discuss the test with your primary care physician. If you are at risk of a heart attack, your physician will provide an order for the test. Finally, a scheduler will call you to schedule it.

Here’s what to expect when you arrive:

  • The calcium scoring test is conducted with an ordinary CT scan. It does involve a small amount of radiation. Your doctor will be able to advise whether the risk of a small amount of additional radiation exposure would relate to a  benefit for you.  
  • It’s easy, non-invasive, and painless.
  • A technologist will ask you to remove all of your jewelry and metal items. You may not be required to change your clothes.
  • You’ll be asked to lie on an examination table, and sensors, placed on your chest, will synchronize the scan with your heart beat.
  • The whole tests takes as little as 5 minutes.
  • Your doctor will provide your results and make recommendations for follow-up care.

If you have some heart attack risk factors, getting your calcium score could be your next best step. It will provide a true measure of your heart attack risk and even help you and your doctor determine the risk/benefit ratio of certain heart medications. In any case, you will gain powerful information to improve your health or provide peace of mind.

Scott Rogge, MD, is a cardiologist with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Cardiology Department and SVMC Cardiology.

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