Published on November 08, 2019

Calcium buildup is among best predictors of heart-attack risk

A simple, 15-minute test is proving vital when it comes to preventive care for serious health events such as heart attacks.

Cardiac calcium scoring relies on a CT scan of the chest to determine how much plaque, or calcium, has built up in the heart. Depending on the test results, patients can better understand their risk of suffering a heart attack over the ensuing 5-10 years. Armed with this knowledge, they can take the appropriate steps to minimize that risk.

“This test is not for people who have symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath. This test is for people who have no symptoms whatsoever, but who have a risk factor such as diabetes, longstanding history of smoking, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, who want to know their true risk of a heart attack and who are willing to take action based on the results,” said Essentia Health cardiologist Dr. Ramin Artang.

Dr. Artang, who also is the medical director of advanced cardiac imaging at Essentia, added that strong family history of heart disease is another risk factor. He says the test is primarily for people aged 45 or older.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Heart & Vascular Center at (218) 786-3443.

What it is: A cardiac calcium scoring test is a quick, hassle-free scan of the patient’s heart. It is designed to measure the amount of hard plaque, or calcium, residing inside coronary arteries. The total amount measured then becomes the patient’s calcium score. The test is a low-radiation chest CT scan and the scan lasts only a few seconds, but with preparation and setup takes 10-15 minutes. No IV lines or contrast infusion are involved.

Why it’s important: The amount of calcium in coronary arteries is among the best predictors of heart-attack risk, according to research. Thus, knowing your calcium score can result in better decision-making to reduce the risk of heart attack.

Cost: At Essentia, calcium scoring tests cost $100, and typically are not covered by insurance. However, reimbursement might be possible via health savings or flexible spending accounts.

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