Heart disease is the silent killer, but what if you could know if you are at risk before something serious occurs? Calcium scoring is a simple CAT scan that detects plaque levels in the heart. The build-up of calcium and fat causes calcified plaque, which narrows arteries, closes off blood flow to the heart, and causes coronary events, or heart attacks. With a quick test, your physician can see potential problems, even if you have no symptoms at all.

A calcium scoring is a very advanced method to detect heart disease in its very earliest stages, but the test itself is very simple. Once patients receive a referral from their primary care provider, they are sent to the radiology department for the simple, 15-minute screening. There is no lengthy prep or diet restrictions; technicians place electrodes on the patient’s chest and he or she lays down on a table. The non-invasive scan calculates the patient’s risk of developing coronary artery disease by measuring the amount of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries.

“A calcium score is one of the most useful assessment tools to check for a patient’s risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Matthew Timm, medical director and primary care physician at Pender Medical Clinic.

“Calcium scoring measures the amount of calcium in the blood vessels of your heart. If the score is very low, a patient’s risk of heart disease is minimal.” Dr. Timm added. “Patients with higher scores meet with their physicians to decide what to do next. We may advise certain lifestyle changes, determine if medication is the best course of action, or refer them to a cardiologist for advanced testing.”

“For people with a family history of heart disease, the test can be a very worthwhile investment to detect blockage and problems early, when they’re most easy to remedy,” Dr. Timm continued. “It can provide great peace of mind for people concerned about their potential risk.”

Here is an example of calcium scoring results:

Zero: No plaque. This score shows that your risk of heart attack is low.

1 – 10: Small amount of plaque. A score of 1 to 10 indicates that your chance of having heart disease is less than 10 percent and your heart attack risk is low.

11-100: Some plaque.Your doctor could recommend some treatment, in addition to suggesting lifestyle changes. This score indicates that you have a moderate chance of a heart attack and mild heart disease.

101 – 400: Moderate plaque. This score indicates that you do have heart disease and plaque may be blocking an artery. It also shows that your chance of having a heart attack is moderate to high. Your health care provider will likely want to start some course of treatment and take more tests. 

Over 400: Large amount of plaque. A score of over 400 indicates that you have more than a 90 percent chance that plaque is blocking one of your arteries and your chance of heart attack is high. Your health care provider will want to start a treatment plan, order more tests, and will likely refer you to a cardiac specialist. 

Even people who are physically active, maintain a healthy weight, and have no other risk factors may be candidates for a calcium scoring because so much of cardiac health hinges on family history and hereditary. Heart disease is extremely common but catching it early, and when it’s most treatable, could save your life.

For more information about calcium scoring, make an appointment with your primary care provider or message them via your patient portal.