Coronary Calcium Scan Illuminates Heart Disease Risk

In our initial meeting, I told my cardiologist that nearly every adult in my family takes a statin due to a family history of high cholesterol. He then asked if anyone had done a Coronary Calcium Scan.

I’d never heard of that test, and none of my relatives have had it done.

But I did, last month.

The reason: my cholesterol results worsened slightly versus a year ago. My latest Cardio IQ blood test* revealed a high number of LDL (bad) cholesterol particles, and that these LDL particles had shifted from the ‘safe,’ fluffy Pattern A type to the more dangerous, small Pattern B type.

Probably this is due to age (women are plagued with worsening cholesterol at/post menopause) and the fact that I’ve not been able to exercise daily due to injury.

I’m relieved to report that my Coronary Calcium Scan score was zero, which is normal. The report I received states, “A low score suggests a low likelihood of coronary artery disease but does not exclude the possibility of significant coronary artery narrowing.”

So good for now (but could get bad…hence the annual Cardio IQ testing.)

That my score was zero was both a relief and confirmed our treatment plan. I’m to continue to manage my cholesterol and heart disease risk with exercise and a heart-healthy diet (read more in my new book, now available for pre-order: The Low Cholesterol Cookbook and Action Plan: 4 Weeks to Cut Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health. More on my book launch in a later post!)

Should you have a Coronary Calcium Scan? The answer is, it depends.

The test is not for everyone. Insurance often doesn’t cover the cost (mine did not; I paid $283.) And it exposes you to radiation—about the same amount you would normally be exposed to in one year.

A terrific explanation of this test was published by Harvard Health’s article, Should you consider a coronary artery calcium scan? Their opening line says it all: “If you’re on the fence about whether to take a statin, this test might make sense.”

So if you and your doctor want more insight into your current risk of heart disease risk and/or you are trying to decide if a statin is needed, consider this test. It reveals if calcium (plaque) has built up in the walls of the heart’s arteries. A score greater than zero indicates calcification is present; as that is an early sign of cardiovascular disease, it should factor into your treatment plan.

A reminder of the Heart Disease Risk Factors: as detailed by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute:

“Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are:

High blood pressure
High blood cholesterol
Diabetes and prediabetes
Smoking
Being overweight or obese
Being physically inactive
Having a family history of early heart disease
Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
Unhealthy diet
Age (55 or older for women)”

Statin medications do lower cholesterol and have been proven effective when other risks of heart disease (see list above) are present. But when high cholesterol is your only risk factor, it just might make sense to discuss a Coronary Calcium Scan with your doctor.

* A Cardio IQ  is a more detailed test than a ‘regular’ cholesterol blood test; in addition to the regular cholesterol figures, it measures LDL Particle number and size, apo-B and Lipoprotein (a). You can read more in my posts, ApoB and Cardiovascular Risk, and Cholesterol Tests Your Doctor Hasn’t Told You About.

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