A study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Session conference found that coronary calcium tests predicts heart risk far more accurately than the cardiac risk equations used by most doctors.
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 more precise.
Dr. Anderson and his colleagues followed 1,107 patients who had symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain and shortness of breath. The researchers gave the subjects coronary calcium tests. They also gave them heart disease risk scores based on standard cardiac equations.
Scientists tracked the patients for two years to see which ones went on to have heart attacks, bypass surgery, or a stent implant.
It turned out that coronary calcium tests were far better than risk equations at predicting which patients would need surgery, have heart problems, or ultimately die of heart problems.
Of the subjects with no coronary calcium, not a single one went on to have major heart problems.
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Dr. Anderson says coronary calcium testing should be done routinely in men at age 50 and in women at around 55. But it is especially important if heart disease runs in your family or you have other risk facts such as obesity or diabetes.
The test 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.
The procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes. 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. 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.
The upside makes the test worth it, Dr. Anderson said. If the results show you don’t have any coronary calcium, you’ll have the peace of mind of being all but certain that a heart attack is not in your future.
If the results do show calcium, you’ll know that you need to take potentially lifesaving steps to improve your heart health.
Editor’s Note: There is a heart attack risk factor that is 10 times more dangerous than cholesterol. But mainstream doctors don’t test for it. And statins actually make it worse.
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