Posted on Jan 23, 2020, 1 p.m.
When it comes to financial tests typically having a high score is the aim, but when it comes to your heart lower numbers are the goal as in general the lower your blood pressure, pulse rate, and cholesterol the better you heart health is.
Your coronary artery calcium score is no exception, you want a low score. The CAC score is still relatively new, but it is the number you should want to know, you probably just haven’t heard about it yet. This score measures the amount of calcium that has been deposited with plaque in the walls of the heart’s arteries; once there calcium can harden to further restrict or even cut off blood flow to the heart.
“Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, refers to the buildup of this rigid calcium. A CAC scan pinpoints where the calcium is and measures the amount it sees in the arteries,” says Dr. Mark Steiner, an interventional cardiologist with the Orlando Health Heart Institute Cardiology Group.
This test is important because the CAC score can be an indicator of coronary artery disease before symptoms appear: “If we can identify plaque and calcium deposits before someone has a heart attack, we can effectively begin aggressive treatment with statins, aspirin and diet,” says Dr. Steiner.
Coronary artery calcium scores are calculated using a specialized CT scan, and scores range from 0-more than 400. The lowest score possible is the goal, higher scores translate into there being more calcium which means increased risk of experiencing a cardiac event; and scores above 400 can also face the danger of having significant blockage.
A score of zero translates to no calcium being seen in the heart and the probability of experiencing a heart attack within the next 5 years is low; scores of 100-300 translate into there being moderate plaque deposits and those already at risk for heart disease with scores above 100 are more likely to experience a heart attack.
The test itself is simple and cost effective, and the scan will allow doctors to identify patients with coronary blockage earlier, especially among those with no other visual symptoms. The score are calculated rapidly by a quick, noninvasive test that does not require any dye injection, removing all your clothing, or even seeing a cardiologist.
“Your primary care physician can order this test for you,” says Dr. Steiner. “It takes about 30 seconds to perform, there is minimal radiation and the test provides a lot of good information quickly.”
Those who are aged 40+, have a family history of heart disease, have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, past/current smoker, overweight, and live a sedentary inactive lifestyle are good candidates CAC screening.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.