Calcium test determines risk of heart attack

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NASHVILLE — Every year, 600,000 people die of heart attacks in this country. That’s one in four deaths.

Knowing the risks of heart attacks are essential, especially the older you are.

The Coronary Calcium Score is a test that has been around for some time, but through the years, the technology has been refined to help doctors use it as an effective tool in assessing a person’s risk of heart attack.

The technology involves a CT scan, an imaging test, to pinpoint plaque in the arteries before it becomes a problem. It does that by detecting calcium in the walls of the arteries.

“When one sees calcium in one’s coronary arteries, by definition, there is at least some degree of plaque present,” said Dr. Rob Hood, cardiologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center.

A high calcium score doesn’t mean that you will have a heart attack, only that you are more likely have one. The higher the score, the higher the risk.

“If you have a score between 100 to 300, that is moderately significant calcium deposits associated with a higher risk of having a cardiac event in the next three to five years,” Hood said.

That time line means the clock is ticking, which should get you off the couch and aware of your lifestyle.

“This information can be used by the patient to motivate better behavior with dietary compliance, and better life habits like exercise,” Hood said.

For a person who believes they have a healthy heart, this test will confirm it, or, give them a wakeup call.

“I thought I was doing pretty well risk wise, but I have a Coronary Calcium Score of 305. I’m going to straighten up, start exercising,” Hood said.

The tests are not covered by insurance, however some hospitals, like Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, are offering the test for under $75.

Your doctor will use the calcium score to decide whether you are at low, normal or high risk, and help you to reduce that risk.