Know Your Score: What to Know About Heart Disease and Calcium Screenings
As you get older, your arteries may begin to harden and narrow due to a build-up of plaque deposits—a condition known as atherosclerosis. If undetected and untreated, over time this condition can progress to the heart itself, resulting in a serious condition known as Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD for short, putting you at an increased risk for serious blockages and deadly heart attacks.
According to the American College of Cardiology, approximately one-third of women over the age of 40 will develop CAD, with rates rising notably after menopause. While somewhat less prevalent in women than men, the disease does affect women differently, with plaque build up and blockages occurring in a way that is sometimes more difficult to detect in some traditional cardiac catheterization tests.
While CAD is the most common form of heart disease—it’s estimated that nearly 16 million Americans have the disease—unfortunately, most will show no major symptoms until it’s too late. In fact, nearly half of Americans with the disease have already experienced at least one heart attach in their lifetime.
The good news is that a noninvasive test known as a Coronary Calcium Screening is now available to provide detailed and accurate measurements of plaque buildup—increasing the likelihood that CAD can be prevented, detected and/or treated long before the silent disease leads to a deadly heart attack.
How does it work?
When plaque builds up in the arteries, calcium also begins to collect in the artery walls. Doctors use images from a CT scan of the heart to look for these calcium deposits, which because they are metallic show up easily on the x-ray images. Doctors take measurements of the amount and density of the calcium in the images to calculate what is known as a coronary calcium score (CCS).
Because where there’s calcium, there’s plaque, the CCS allows your doctor to determine how much plaque buildup exists in your heart’s arteries. Your score can range from 0 (low risk, no plaque) to >400 (extensive plaque, high risk for artery narrowing or blockage). Your doctor will consider this score along with some traditional risk factors—including age, family history, diabetes, cigarette use, high cholesterol and high blood pressure—to determine your risk for CAD and heart attacks both today and up to 10-years in the future.