Screening Settles Score For Heart Attack Risk

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At 50-years old and with a history of heart disease in his family, Curtis Wagers was anxious to know if he has extra cause for concern.

"I haven't had any symptoms of heart problems," Wagers said, "but they may be underlying and you don't know about it."

A cardiac calcium score could provide some clues. It's a CT scan, taking less than 15 minutes, looking for narrowing in the coronary arteries that can lead to heart attacks.

Dr. Timothy Allen, a radiologist at Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka, says that, as a person forms plaque in their arteries, it calcifies. Measuring the amount of calcified plague in the arteries can provide an assessment of the degree of a person's risk of coronary artery disease.

Allen says doctors might use the test on patients with certain risk factors in assessing whether to go forward with treatments, like statins. There are eight primary risk factors physicians consider in whether to recommend the screening: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, strong family history of heart attack or heart disease, smoking, physical inactivity and age 50 or older. The scans are not recommend for people who are otherwise healthy, have not heart disease symptoms and no risk factors.

Allen says there are other risk assessments available, but the screening offers an additional tool to better quantify a person's risk. He says people may be reluctant to take on the expense or side effects of medications, so the screening can give provide another piece of information in making decisions.

Wagers received good news in a score of 36, which means only minimal evidence of narrowing. The scale goes over 400. Allen says the score be a motivator.

"If a person knows they have a significant risk for coronary artery disease, it can motivate them to do the lifestyle changes that are necessary," Allen said.

Wagers says he will take the information to heart, using the score as a foundation on which to build some healthy changes.

People interested in having a cardiac calcium score screening should talk to their doctor for a referral. It costs $100 and is not covered by insurance.