Knowing your calcium score just might save yourself from death by heart disease.
But it’s not as simple as an absolute number that applies to every single individual in the same way.
There are multiple considerations when it comes to your calcium score result.
When a celebrity dies in middle age from a heart attack, do you ever wonder if he or she had known their calcium score, would this knowledge have changed the trajectory of their lifestyle habits long-term and possibly prevented that heart attack?
Fact is, most people have never, and will never, have a calcium score test done. This includes the rich and famous.
Heart disease kills well over half a million Americans every year.
The most common type of heart disease is that of the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease, or CAD), and this can lead to heart attacks, chronic chest pain and shortness of breath (angina), heart failure, stroke and abnormal cardiac rhythms.
What is a calcium score test?
This non-invasive, 15-minute screening procedure can help present an overview of one’s heart health – within the context of other indicators such as the presence or absence of diabetes and obesity.
A CAT scan detects calcium deposits in the three major coronary arteries.
Calcium deposits strongly correlate with plaque buildup (blockages), and of course, plaque deposits correlates to coronary artery disease and cardiac event risk in the next three years.
It’s not recommended that a person have a calcium score test more frequently than every five years.
• The patient’s medical history is applied to the total calcium score.
• The number is then compared to patient databases for that individual’s gender and age to arrive at a final number.
• The lower the score, the less likely the presence of plaque buildup.
• A number of 150+ indicates excessive calcium deposits.
• Medical insurance usually will not cover the procedure, which can range from $70 to $350.
Effectiveness of Calcium Score Test
“A calcium score test is not a good test to determine prevention,” says Dr. Krishnan is with Pacific Heart & Vascular, a board-certified adult general cardiologist with advanced subspecialty training in interventional cardiology.
“The plaque volume is calculated and a risk score for future events has been calculated based on the number.
“Obviously the higher the score, the greater the chance for a cardiac event.”
But a very high score, such as 1,450, doesn’t guarantee a heart attack. An elderly person can live another 10 years after being told he has a calcium score of 1,450.
“It is also a long-term predictor of morbidity and mortality, but really does nothing for patients in the short-term,” says Dr. Krishnan.
“Many cardiologists can use it to guide further therapy in patients who fall in sort of a gray zone based on their risk factors.
“For example, an otherwise healthy patient with bad cholesterol numbers, who sort of exercises on an infrequent basis, could have a calcium score test performed — and the result can help guide whether he should be on further aggressive treatment such as aspirin or statin therapy.
“Patients who are low risk really would not benefit from this test and should continue maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle.
“Patients at high risk should be closely monitored and should be considered for more aggressive tests such as stress testing (along with heart medications).”
Fear of a Heart Attack Any Day After Getting a High Calcium Score Result
Dr. Krishnan explains, “In my practice I see a lot of patients who have been ordered calcium scores by other physicians, and they come to me quite anxious and paranoid at the results — thinking that they’re going to have a heart attack very shortly.
“I often end up having to reassure them that the best test for them to undergo in the short-term is a functional stress test to determine if there is any immediate coronary blockages.”