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Your Healthy Family: Heart CT scan part 2, my results and their meaning

What does a calcium score mean, and what was mine? What does a calcium score mean, and what was mine?
COLORADO SPRINGS -

I need to give a disclaimer at the beginning of this story.  I usually go out of my way to find stories about other people, but this one was so close to home I decided to share my story.  Looking around I feel I’m fairly representative of many men my age who may not be in terrible health but can do more to improve their heart health and potential quality of life down the line.  I know for sure I’m just like my father in this regard.  I’m also hoping that by sharing my story I will be more motivated to stay committed to lifestyle changes that have been a real challenge for me.

After a recent heart CT scan i had, the images were read by a radiologist and passed onto my primary care doctor.  One of results of the scan is a calcium score based on the amount of calcium in the heart that may show up on the scan.  What does a calcium score mean, and what was mine?

A calcium score is ranked on a scale from 0 - 400.   I found this online breakdown of the Coronary Calcium Score on docsopinion.com

Score 0: No identifiable plaque. Risk of coronary artery disease very low (<5%)

Score 1-10: Mild identifiable plaque. Risk of coronary artery disease low (<10%)

Score 11-100: Definite, at least mild atherosclerotic plaque. Mild or minimal coronary narrowings likely.

Score 101-400: Definite, at least moderate atherosclerotic plaque. Mild coronary artery disease highly likely. Significant narrowings possible

Score > 400: Extensive atherosclerotic plaque. High likelihood of at least one significant coronary narrowing.

My calcium score is 26 which is considered mild in terms of risk for coronary narrowings but does indicate the beginnings of plaque buildup.  While 26 is considered a mild risk, my primary care doctor tells me it’s above average for a 48 year old male.  When you combine my calcium score, with my blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight which are all a little higher than they should be, and my family history of heart disease along with my lack of commitment to exercise, all adds up to a very early and to me serious wake up call.

I spoke with a couple of heart doctors from UCHealth Memorial about heart health and calcium scores in general.  The good news is for someone like me, the ability to reduce many of these risk factors is in my control.

Dr. Dr. Michael Perry says, “There is medical management for heart disease.  There's also mitigation of risk factors, so exercise, diet, cholesterol, managing blood pressure, managing diabetes, and quitting smoking for people who smoke is a tremendous issue.  These are all things that with the information from a cardiac CT It may change not only your lifestyle and how you manage all those risk factors, but also how you're medically treated for the potential of coronary disease."

Dr. Peter Walinsky is the Medical Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCHealth Memorial and says just because a person may have several risk factors when it comes to heart health, that  doesn't guarantee someone is destined for a heart attack.  “Most of the people who have heart attacks have risk factors for having heart attacks, they're overweight, they have high cholesterol, they have high blood pressure, they have diabetes, but even if you have some of these issues you might not have a heart attack.”

My doctor now has me on a mild dose of a statin drug and is now treating me at low levels for the beginning signs of heart disease.  For my part, I'm now more serious about the issue that has been in the back of mind for a few years.  I’m working to correct the lifestyle factors I can control through improved diet and exercise.

Reducing risk factors is important to heart health but not because it will guarantee that you will  avoid a heart attack, because as in my case heart disease run in my family.  Dr. Walinsky says,

“Some people are unlucky and they have bad genes. And even really healthy people can have a heart attack, while that's unusual.  But if you're in better shape and you're not overweight, and you do exercise, even if you're unlucky enough to have a heart attack, you'll certainly be in better shape to survive one.”

Celebrity personal trainer Bob Harper is a perfect example of that. He eats right, and exercises regularly, but there was heart disease in his family history.  He suffered a heart attack working out recently, and was able to survive it because he is in good shape and has people around him who quickly sprang into action.

Finally I mentioned in part 1 of this story that a heart CT scan isn't covered by most insurance policies.  At UCHealth Memorial I paid around $160.00 after self pay discounts.   For me the motivation it's given me to get serious about making some life changes is well worth it.  If you think a heart scan is a good idea for you, have a conversation with your doctor.

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