Questions and answers about calcium scoring

"HeartCare's CT captures your beating heart and gives early warning of any problems. Knowing your calcium score can change your life."
- Maria Santos, clinical director

Fast, simple CT scan delivers peace of mind

Lying on his back, feet-first, he moved toward the doughnut. He was about to look into his heart.

"Brad," a middle-aged, overweight male with a desk job, was undergoing a scan to detect coronary calcification, in which plaque builds up and obstructs arteries. Calcified plaque is a major marker for coronary artery disease. He had no symptoms, but the scan could serve as an early warning of potential trouble, providing a calcium score to indicate his level of risk. A high score (gulp) might indicate the need for further tests, medication and/or lifestyle changes.

The comfortable surroundings and the skill of the CT technician eased any anxiety. Brad was at HeartCare, a new cardiac outpatient diagnostic facility at Wolf River Blvd. and Riverdale in Germantown, where putting patients at ease is a priority. HeartCare is a regional pioneer in the detection and prevention of heart disease.

The scan was simple and quick. No preparation. Just street clothes. The tech asked Brad to lie down on the "couch" and taped three electrodes to his chest. The electrodes synchronize the scanner with the patient's heartbeat to produce crisp images of a beating heart. The tech went to her station and started the process. Smoothly, the couch elevated and began gliding toward the gantry (doughnut), the body of the scanner, about as big as a side-by-side refrigerator but with a 2-foot-diameter hole in the middle. The hole was Brad's destination.

Accuracy unmatched in region

He was on HeartCare's 16-detector cardiac CT scanner, made by Philips Medical, the only machine of its kind in the region and one of the most sensitive and accurate ways to detect coronary artery calcium. The CT does not detect soft or non-calcified plaque, which is also an indicator of heart disease.
Feet first, Brad glided into the doughnut hole until he was chest high. The hole is only a few inches thick—no sense of being enclosed. A computer voice asked him to hold his breath for a few seconds. The X-ray emitter rotated around him as the tech took a "scout view," an overall image of the chest area. On a computer monitor, she marked off a grid to tell the scanner where to focus.

Hold your breath again, Brad was told. The couch inched forward as the scanner took "slices" of his heart. Think of slicing an apple across the core, or a spiral-sliced ham. Each slice represents a different cross-section.

Just like that, the scan was over. Quick and painless. Back and down glided the couch. Off came the electrodes. Up rose the patient. Two minutes, from start to finish. The actual scan took less than 30 seconds.

Moment of truth

Then the moment of truth. The CT tech took Brad to a computer monitor, where she displayed the slices, the digital images of his heart. Calcium, he was told, appears on the screen as a pink color. Uh-oh, there they are—pink blobs! No, no, she said, that's your spine, sternum and ribs. Naturally, they're pink with calcium. Whew!

She guided Brad through his heart and surrounding vessels, slice by slice, a chamber here, an artery there, explaining as she went. Then she sliced to the heart of the matter:
"I found no evidence of coronary calcium."
"Really? You're kidding."
"No calcium. Your score is zero. Congratulations!"
There it was on the computer screen under the last image:
Calcium score . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Does that mean Brad will never have heart trouble? No. But it means that there's no evidence of coronary artery calcification, no sign of atherosclerosis, according to one of the most accurate and sensitive scans available in the region. Does it mean Brad can eat what he wants, avoid exercise, never have check-ups? No. But thanks to the advanced CT scan available only at HeartCare, Brad gained an important gift—peace of mind. Even a patient with a higher calcium score would gain valuable early warning while there was still time to take action, perhaps avoiding a future heart attack or surgery.

Insights for a healthier future. That's a lot of value for a two-minute test, and that's what HeartCare offers.

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