Heart attack alert: Know your coronary calcium score

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. It affects all ages, races, and genders. In fact, one person every 33 seconds dies from coronary artery disease. Now that you know these statistics, do you want to know your risk of having a heart attack?

From monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes to undergoing mammograms, PSA screenings, pap tests, HIV tests and skin cancer examinations … as we age, the roster of recommended medical tests keeps getting longer and longer. And now, there’s one more to add to the list.

Pamela Rama, MD, FACC, Preventative Cardiologist at Baptist Health - Jacksonville, FL explained, “The Coronary Calcium Score is actually a cat scan. It takes two minutes to acquire the images and very little radiation is involved. And what it does is, it looks at your coronary arteries to see if there’s any calcium in your coronary arteries. And if we find calcium, it’s equivalent to having coronary artery disease.”

The CAT scan is then used to create a scale from zero to 400. A score of zero means there’s no plaque present. The higher the score, the more plaque is present. But Baptist Health Cardiologist Pamela Rama says even a low score doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

Doctor Rama said, “Even a score of one means that you have coronary artery disease. What draws the calcium into the coronary arteries is cholesterol plaque. So, for me, it’s the best predictor of cardiac events that we have so far.”

Not only can it determine your risk, but Doctor Rama also uses it to determine if her patients need cholesterol medications, such as statins.

“When I have patients who have high cholesterol levels and their coronary calcium score is zero, I actually stop their statin therapy and they love it,” said Doctor Rama.

The only people who don’t need the test … anyone who has already been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. With ways to test your heart health.

Doctor Rama said it’s not a test that needs to be repeated every year. But she does suggest repeating it in five years if you score zero. She recommends it for people over 45, or younger if heart disease runs in the family. It’s usually covered by insurance, but if not, the test runs about a hundred dollars.