Why the Heart Scan is so Important
Heart disease is still the #1 killer in the United States each year. What I find most tragic is in many cases this is a lifestyle-related, and therefore preventable, disease. The research is clear on the many factors that increase or decrease one’s risk, so taking a few simple steps now is paramount in reducing your risk down the line. In addition to following dietary and nutritional guidelines and exercising daily, there are excellent tests available to assess the health of your heart.
One of the most important tests for heart health is the Coronary Calcium Score, or “Heart Scan”, which is a CT of the blood vessels supplying the heart. The Heart Scan test measures how much hard plaque you have in your heart. It can determine if you don’t have any hard plaque at all (which is the case for most of my patients) or if you do have hard plaque. If hard plaque is found, it tells us how much and to what degree it increases your risk. Using this test over time monitors if your plaque is increasing at a fast rate, average rate, slow rate, not increasing or actually reversing.
Plaque build-up and/or rupture is what causes the vast majority of heart attacks and this test provides the clearest picture of your risk of a heart attack now and in the future. I recommend the Heart Scan/Calcium Score test for all men over 40 and all women over 45. Make that 5 years earlier if there is a significant family history of heart disease or if you exercise vigorously.
Cholesterol tests are relatively insignificant compared to this test, as someone can have perfectly great cholesterol levels and still have calcification; conversely, someone can have terrible cholesterol numbers and have totally clear arteries. I have seen this in my patients, and all doctors who have used the Heart Scan with any frequency have seen the same.
Another test that cardiologists rely heavily on is the stress test. This test usually picks up decreased blood flow in the arteries of your heart, but only after it has reached at least 70% blockage! I have even seen patients with blockage greater than 70% who passed the stress test. When you fail the stress test you are ready for surgery! Fail it and they are scheduling you for a stent, bypass surgery or one of their other surgical options.
If you have a zero calcium score on the Heart Scan, which most of my patients have, plus an excellent result on your Omega 3 Index Test, then your risk of a heart attack today or in the near future is practically non-existent! A zero score means you have no hard plaque in the arteries of your heart. That’s great news!
If you have a score greater than zero, then we know we need to take extra steps. This can include a lifestyle and nutritional plan to at least slow down, if not stop, the plaque from progressing. Retesting is done once every 1 – 2 years depending on your score, and in some cases, a referral to a cardiologist is necessary to assess. If you have a score greater than zero, future tests will clarify if the lifestyle and nutritional plan are effective at slowing, stopping or reversing your plaque. We’ve had very good results in this area with a high percentage of patients who follow the plan.
This is a condition that, if it exists, we want to know about immediately. I have seen 3 non-patients this year after they had a heart attack, and all of these heart attacks could have been avoided if they had had this test before. Again, if you are clear with a score of zero, we want to know that also.
There has been a good deal misinformation regarding the amount of radiation the Heart Scan exposes you to. I have researched this a number of times; it is a relatively low dose of radiation (full body scans are another thing). The amount of radiation falls within the same range as what we are exposed to living on planet earth for one year.
The actual test itself is quite simple and only takes a couple minutes. Additionally, in Santa Barbara we are very fortunate to have this test available for only $150, when the same test can cost as much as $600 or more in other areas.
If you are interested in this test, just let me know and I will write you a requisition. I usually have the results within a day.
By the way, I make no money for referring you for this test. If you are a current patient and your results are zero, I call you up with the Great News. If they are other than zero, I set up an appointment with you to discuss your specific picture and what can be done to try to slow, halt or reverse the calcification process.