When your doctor determines your risk of heart disease, chances are he or she uses a standard cardiac risk equation.
It’s a formula that takes into account your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride readings. And it looks at whether you are a smoker, have diabetes, have a family history of heart trouble, or are overweight.
Mainstream heart risk assessment equations are notoriously unreliable. They show no danger in more than two-thirds of people who have heart attacks. Researchers recently discovered that another test is far more accurate.
The new study was presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Session conference. It found that testing coronary calcium levels is a good way to detect blocked coronary arteries. And it’s much better than cardiac risk equations used by most doctors.1
Dr. Jeffrey L. Anderson is a cardiologist and researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City. He says that unlike risk equations, coronary calcium is a marker that shows the actual presence of heart disease. This makes it far more precise.
The study followed 1,107 patients who had symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain and shortness of breath. Researchers gave them coronary calcium tests. They also gave the subjects heart disease risk scores based on standard cardiac equations.
Scientists tracked the patients for two years to see which ones went on to have bypass surgery or a stent implant.
It turned out that coronary calcium tests were far better than risk equations at predicting which patients would die of heart problems or would need heart surgery.
Twenty-nine subjects showed no coronary calcium. Not a single one of them had any major heart problems during the study.
The Best Way to Diagnose Blocked Arteries
Dr. Anderson says coronary calcium testing should be done routinely in men at age 50 and in women at around 55.
The exam is done with a CT scanner.
The scanner operator puts electrodes with adhesive pads on your chest. These are connected to an EKG machine, which determines the exact moments to take images of your heart.2
The procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes.3
Insurance doesn’t usually cover the test. But it typically costs $100 or less.
The downside is that CT scans subject you to potentially harmful radiation. It’s linked to cancer. But you need to get a calcium test only once. This means the overall amount of radiation you get is low compared to tests like dental X-rays or mammograms that you get many times over the years.
Knowing the results of your calcium test can either give you peace of mind or the knowledge you need to take steps to prevent a heart attack.
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