Heart attacks can be predicted with the so-called calcium score, which is based upon the amount of this mineral in your coronary arteries. The calcium score is used to predict heart attacks when taken into consideration with other standard risk factors for heart attacks.
This all improves the ability to predict heart attacks. The information comes from research that’s reported in JAMA (April 2010). A CAT scan (“CT” scan) is the tool used to determine the coronary artery calcium score.
The imaging device measures calcium buildup in the plaque that’s on the arterial walls inside the heart.
This is associated with risk of future heart attacks. But to what extent does adding the coronary artery calcium score, when added to traditional risk factors for heart disease, improve classification of risk?
This is not clear, according to the JAMA report. The research involved 6,814 subjects who did not have known cardiovascular disease.
The authors of this study stated that when the coronary artery calcium score is added to the traditional risk factors for heart attacks, the result is a substantial improvement in the classification of risk for predicting heart disease events in women and men who present with no symptoms.
So why, then, isn’t the CAT scan for calcium score a standard screening procedure for possible future heart attacks?
A CAT scan runs between $200 and $600, and it would be quite costly to implement this as a screening procedure for the general or average-risk population.
Secondly, CAT scans pose radiation exposure. Just one exam, taken at age 40, is estimated to produce 28 cancers per 100,000 women, and nine cancers per 100,000 men.
This may seem negligible, but these numbers are actually statistically significant. The calcium score cannot be determined with an MRI.
The study authors report that the coronary artery calcium score is a promising assessment tool for possible future cardiac events, but it remains unclear whether or not this tool’s benefits outweigh the risks for the general population.
In the meantime, if you’re concerned about heart attacks, a good start would be to request from your doctor a C-reactive protein blood test, and an LPA blood test, in addition to a cholesterol test.
Plus, avoid trans fats, lose excess weight, especially if it’s concentrated in your belly, and stick to a structured exercise regimen. Another risk factor for heart attacks is getting emotionally “worked up” on a frequent basis; learn stress management.