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A Score to Keep: Read Tony's Story
Calcium scoring can predict long-term heart health
"Calcium scoring is the most accurate way to detect plaque buildup in the heart arteries in advance of the onset of a cardiac event, and in some cases, prior to experiencing symptoms."
Date: 12/12/2010

In the time it takes to hold a single breath, a physician can calculate a patient's risk for a future heart attack.  

Using a 64-slice Computerized Tomography (CT) scan, cardiologists are able to obtain information about the presence, location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries. This plaque results when there is a build-up of fat and other substances under an artery's inner layer, signaling the presence of atherosclerosis, also called coronary artery disease (CAD).  If left undetected, the plaque can build up and narrow the blood vessel walls, which can lead to chest pain and even a heart attack.

Diagnosis in a Heartbeat

Within minutes of completing the scan, a physician can determine the patient's calcium score. The higher the calcium score, the more imminent the danger of a heart attack. Patients who have scores over 400 are more likely to develop heart disease symptoms within two to five years.

With a score of over 3,000, Tony of Pennington was unaware of the danger that he was in. For a few weeks, he complained of mild chest discomfort and pain in his left arm. He dismissed the pain at first, but decided to visit the emergency department one evening after picking his wife up from work.  "I know of knew something was up, but I didn't want to believe it," he admits.

Both Tony's EKG and nuclear stress test yielded normal results, but Tony's cardiologist, Ronald Ryder, DO, knew to investigate further. Dr. Ryder urged Tony to have a CT scan using the advanced technology of the 64-slice scanner, which would provide a clear view of Tony's arteries in minutes.

"Calcium scoring is the most accurate way to detect plaque buildup in the heart arteries in advance of the onset of a cardiac event, and in some cases, prior to experiencing symptoms," concludes Dr. Ryder. "When we saw that his calcium score as over 3,000, we knew that we had to act fast."

Technology Gives a Clear Picture

"Since the heart is an organ of constant movement, gathering precise images can be a challenge," he adds. Unlike traditional CT scans, a 64-slice CT scan can rapidly and clearly image the heart. It allows physicians to manipulate images to see inside the heart's vessels, capturing details that might be missed with EKG and other testing.

The damage was so significant to Tony's heart, he underwent double bypass surgery. Shortly after his own diagnosis, Tony's wife, Anne, suffered a major heart attack. As a result of some changes to their daily habits, including modifying their diet and walking a few times a week, the couple is back to enjoying retired life. "Before, we would eat pasta and pizza," says Tony.  "Now, we stay away from those things and instead of eating canned soup that contains a lot of sodium, we make our own fresh soup and eat more salads."

Tony knows that if he didn't have the scan, his story might have an alternate ending. "If only my wife had the advantage of this test, things may have been different for her," he reflects.

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