What is the calcium score test to detect risk of heart attacks all about?


Heart-attack, according to Mayo Clinic, “occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most often a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries).” It is responsible for many deaths around the world.

“A heart attack is a wake-up call for all of us. Especially for the younger generation, as deaths from heart disease are increasing in the country. Calcium scoring is a newer method to predict the risk of heart attack in the future, and the purpose of detecting calcium in arteries is to customise the lifestyle and reduce this risk,” said Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman – Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.

Now a new screening method — calcium scoring test — is being used to help prevent unforeseen deaths.

What is the test all about?

Through the test, the amount of calcium in the coronary artery is determined via a specialized CT imaging – confirming the total area being occupied and the density.

It has been found that while calcium is an important component for our bones, calcium in coronary arteries can be an additional risk factor for heart diseases. Calcium build-up or plaque is made up of fatty substances or LDL cholesterol and fibrin. The build-ups may remain stable in the arteries but eventually, they can become inflamed and rupture, forming a blood clot that can cause a heart attack.

heart disease A person’s calcium score is highly correlated with cardiovascular death and the chances of having a heart attack or stroke, with the higher scores representing a greater risk for subsequent events in the coming years. (Source: Getty images)

Therefore, the coronary calcium scoring test is effective in pre-determining the risk of heart attacks. The test enables direct visualisation of the amount of calcium deposit in coronary arteries. While a zero score means no calcium is seen, suggesting a low probability of heart attack during next decades, higher the score, higher is the risk of a heart disease. A score of 100-300 means moderate risk, and a score higher than 400 may be an indicator of blockage in the coronary artery.

The entire test takes 10-15 minutes, while the scan time is only 5-15 seconds, with low radiation.

Dr Peeyush Jain, director, non-interventional cardiology and head of department – preventive health check, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, said, “Calcium scoring test helps cardiologists to know the risk of heart disease for future. It is painless, safe, and carries a low risk of side-effects. Calcium scoring is a method to fine-tune the risk and to devise methods to prevent further progression of blockages of arteries.”

A person’s calcium score is highly correlated with cardiovascular death and the chances of having a heart attack or stroke, with the higher scores representing a greater risk for subsequent events in the coming years.

Treatment could begin with cholesterol-lowering medication alongside heart-healthy lifestyle changes including more exercise and dietary modifications. Dr Mona Bhatia, director and head of department, radiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, said, “Calcium scoring is now incorporated in the guidelines globally to enhance the risk assessment and treatment. This scan is useful for the patient who is thought to have an uncertain risk for heart disease. It also motivates a lot of people with moderate heart disease risk to make lifestyle changes for the better.”

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