Coronary Calcium Scores: Determining Your Risk to Start Preventive Therapy

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February 25, 2019

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A heart scan, also known as a coronary calcium scan or cardiac CT for calcium scoring, is a non-invasive test that helps doctors detect a person’s risk of heart disease or a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, over the next five to 10 years.

And now the test’s result, called a cardiac calcium score, is helping guide physicians in treating coronary heart disease, thanks to new guidelines issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) and American College of Cardiology (ACC).

“This is the first time physicians have guidelines to support medical management of patients at risk of coronary heart disease,”  said Ricardo Cury, M.D., director of cardiac imaging at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “While advanced CT technology allows doctors to visualize any plaque buildup in patient’s arteries, the calcium score can indicate to the physician that he or she may want to initiate preventive therapy.”

(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Ricardo Cury, M.D., director of cardiac imaging, and Elliott Elias, M.D., interventional echocardiography, at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, about the coronary calcium test and scoring. Video by Alcyene Almeida Rodrigues)

The higher calcium score a patient has, the more aggressive the treatment will be, Dr. Cury explains. “This allows us to optimize medications, such as statin dose, for preventing plaque buildup.”

Coronary calcium scoring involves undergoing a noninvasive CT scan that measures any calcium buildup in the walls of the heart’s blood vessels. Primary treatment for coronary artery disease is to prescribe a medication, called a statin, that helps the body maintain healthy levels of cholesterol.

How Calcium Scoring Helps Patients

Doctors are already seeing how the new guidelines for a coronary calcium scan are benefiting patients.

“We’re seeing several patients come through our office who are benefiting from knowing their cardiac calcium score,” said Elliott Elias, M.D., a cardiologist with a focus on interventional echocardiography at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “It’s helping us develop very targeted therapy for people who may otherwise had no idea of their risk. We can know immediately if we have to put a person on statin or not.”

The Baptist Health News Team learned more about cardiac calcium scores, including who should be tested, from Dr. Cury, Dr. Elias and Milkos Olaniel, CT technician at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Watch the video now for Part I of a two-article series.

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