What Can a Heart Scan Tell You About Your Health?

Posted: Monday, December 17, 2018

Heart Scan

According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States, responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths that occur yearly. Those are sobering numbers, and may leave you wondering what to do in the face of such a serious health risk. The  imaging department at DeKalb Health is here to help equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to stay ahead of heart disease. A heart scan is one of the key tools at our disposal.

Also known as a coronary calcium scan, this test employs a specialized type of x-ray known as a computed tomography (CT) scan to take pictures of your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart. In these pictures, we’re looking for buildups of calcium. Calcium in the arteries is an indication of plaque buildup. It’s not the same kind of plaque your dentist checks you for, but it works in a similar way: a blockage that occurs and causes health problems.

This arterial plaque is a mixture of fat and calcium. As it builds up in your arteries, it makes it harder and harder for blood to flow. While the plaque has a wax-like consistency at the beginning, it eventually hardens, becoming calcified plaque. This further impedes blood flow. As blood flow slows, it can prevent your arteries from bringing different parts of your body the oxygen they need. This plaque can also break open and cause a blood clot. That blood clot, in turn, can cause a heart attack. These clots can travel to the brain as well and cause a stroke.

When should I get a heart scan?

There are different risk factors that may cause your doctor to recommend a heart scan. Family history of heart disease plays a large role in determining whether a heart scan is recommended. Blood pressure, cholesterol level, age, whether or not you smoke, and gender are also important factors to take into consideration. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking all contribute to heart disease. Age plays a factor as well, with men 40-45 or older and women 50-55 or older typically urged to get a heart scan.

What do I do with the results of the heart scan?

After the test, you will receive what’s known as an Agatston score, which measures the level of calcium buildup in your arteries. As the number climbs, so does your risk. A score between 100 and 300 qualifies you as having moderate plaque deposits. This is correlated with a relatively high risk of heart attack or heart disease over the next three to five years. Your doctor will work with you to create a plan that helps lessen this risk, perhaps involving changes to diet and exercise, introduction of or changes in medication, or additional testing. A score over 300 represents a severe risk of heart attack or heart disease and will require a more time-sensitive course of treatment from your doctor.

Schedule an Appointment

It’s hard to overstate the value of a heart scan. It provides a clear indication of your heart health and can help you avoid serious or life-threatening heart complications. In many cases, the results can be eye-opening. Even otherwise healthy people have come into DeKalb Health Imaging Center for a heart scan to discover that their family history of heart disease has manifested in their own body. Call 260.333.7710 to schedule a heart scan here at DeKalb Health in Auburn, IN.