To obtain insight into your heart health, there are some routine tests that your doctor can request. This often involves blood work which reveals your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Your doctor can also take your blood pressure. These are key factors in determining a person’s risk of a future heart attack, but they don’t paint a full picture.
To dig deeper, your doctor may request a CT scan of your heart. Depending on the results, you could require statins.
Prescribing statins to a patient is a way to help reduce their risk of a future cardiovascular event, and delaying this prescription slowly increases a person’s risk.
There is another type of test that can provide valuable insight into a person’s heart health, but unfortunately, it is often not covered by insurance companies. This means many people could be missing out on this information, putting their heart at risk.
This test is known as a coronary artery calcium (CAC) test. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology are now including this test in their cholesterol guidelines.
A CAC scan is quick and non-invasive. It uses a CT scan to reveal calcified or hardened plaque along the arteries. Having calcified plaque can increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. This scan will give you a calcium score. A score of zero reveals there is no plaque present, while a score of 100 is considered a tipping point and statin therapy is strongly suggested.
A CAC test is best for patients who hover on the line between needing and not needing statins. For example, one study that looked at 13,600 patients for ten years found that statin therapy was not effective in patients with a calcium score of zero.
Researchers also suggest that making patients more aware of their calcium score may motivate them to reduce other risk factors. For example, a person may be more motivated to quit smoking or start exercising if they have a high calcium score.
Although the test can be beneficial, you may have to pay for it. The cost of a CAC test ranges from $100 to $500 depending on where you live. Depending on your other health scores, you can determine whether this scan is for you.
But before you get any scans, it’s essential that you become aware of your heart risks and attempt to change those first.
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