Coronary Calcium Scoring Tests Are Key to Efforts
Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg (MIF) has earned international accreditation through the National Heart Health Program© for its calcium scoring screening tests, said Ed Swager, CEO of Radiologic Associates of Fredericksburg (RAF).
Coronary calcium scoring – also known as heart scan screening – is a fast, painless CT scan that enables physicians to assess a patient’s risks of having heart disease, a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the US for women and men alike, more than all cancers combined.
RAF’s board-certified, fellowship- trained diagnostic radiologists evaluate the test results at MIF and communicate findings to patients and their physicians.
“We worked closely with the National Heart Health Program to meet its standards for accreditation as a member site. The program follows the guidelines of the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and American College of Radiology,” Swager noted.
Neil B. Green, MD, RAF physician director of cardiac imaging, said coronary calcium scoring uses a high-speed CT scan to reveal early predictors of cardiovascular disease – flecks of hard plaque (calcium) buildup in the blood vessels of the heart that are counted. The higher the calcium score, the greater the risk. The lower the score, the lower the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
Based on the results, patients and their physicians can make changes in diet, exercise and/or medications to lower risks. In some cases, patients who were previously believed to be at significant risk have been able to eliminate statin medications after consulting with their physicians.
Research indicates that calcium scoring tests are highly accurate. There is no such thing as a false-positive calcium score. It is 100% accurate for coronary atherosclerosis. As a result, the screening test is an improvement on the widely used Framingham Risk Score for evaluating patients who have no outward signs of cardiovascular disease but are believed to be at “intermediate risk,” Dr. Green said.
Calcium scoring also is a better predictor than blood cholesterol tests because some patients with heart disease have normal blood cholesterol levels.
“Calcium scoring recently received a seal of approval from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines for use in intermediate-risk patients – the largest patient population,” Dr. Green said.
“Medical advisory groups such as the Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) have also reviewed the research. They recommend calcium scoring tests for screening men ages 45–80 and women ages 55–80 who have no known heart disease or younger patients with two or more risk factors.”
The National Heart Health Program web site noted that based on the more than 82,000 asymptomatic patients who have received calcium scoring at member sites so far, 41% were found to be at low risk, 34% at moderate risk, 12% at high risk and 13% at very high risk of a cardiovascular event in the next five years.
Fast and Non-Invasive
Before the screening test is started, electrocardiogram (EKG) patches are placed on the patient’s chest to ensure that the CT scans are taken during a resting heart rate. The patient lays on a table that slides into the large circular hole of the CT machine.
The screening takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, with the CT scan itself completed in about five minutes, Dr. Green explained. RAF CEO Swager added that little radiation exposure is involved, the equivalent of one-half the annual background exposure in the US from everyday activities or the equivalent of one screening mammogram.
A specially trained radiologist evaluates the test and gives the patient a calcium score. Any findings of concern are discussed directly with patients and their physicians. Patients who do not have primary care physicians or specialists already working with them are referred to local medical practices, Dr. Green said