Every 40 seconds someone in America suffers from a heart attack. In fact, heart disease is the main cause of death in America. Primary care physicians evaluate their patient’s risk of heart attack by considering factors like weight, diet, family history, and medical conditions. They also perform tests such as a lipid panel, blood pressure monitoring, glucose screening, and body mass index to estimate heart attack risk in a patient. However, it is extremely hard to identify high-risk individuals since factors that contribute to heart attacks vary from one patient to another. Moreover, traditional methods of testing are limited in their ability to detect atherosclerosis, the disease that causes heart attacks, so they only point to the probability of a patient experiencing a heart attack. Fortunately, technological advancements are leading to better, more precise methods to assess heart attack risk.
For instance, the relatively new Coronary Calcium Scan, also known as the Calcium Score, is a diagnostic test that provides a more accurate assessment, and therefore can better predict a patient’s risk of having a heart attack. The test uses a CT scan to take images of a patient’s heart and measures the amount of calcium deposit in their arteries. When the test is complete, it presents a coronary artery calcium score that ranges from 0 to 400+, a score of 0 means the patient has little to no calcium in their arteries and has a very low chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. On the other hand, a score of 400 or over indicates a major deposit of calcium and plaque, which means that the individual is at high risk of a heart attack. The Calcium Score helps doctors assess their patient’s level of heart attack risk and help them determine the best course of treatment for higher-risk patients.
Although the Calcium Score is more efficient and provides accurate data, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) does not recommend the Calcium Score as a standalone screening test to gauge heart attack risk. They advise physicians to add Calcium Score to traditional methods of detecting heart attack risks because the combined tests dramatically improve a physician’s ability to assess heart attack risk.