Through computed tomography (CT) images of the heart and other types of imaging, build-up of dangerous coronary plaques — which restrict the flow of blood to the heart — can be detected, even before a person develops symptoms of heart disease.
Because of this, there is increasing interest in using these imaging techniques to screen for heart disease.
According to a review published today in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, a simple CT imaging technique called a coronary artery calcium (CAC) scan — often referred to as a “calcium scan” — may be particularly useful when screening for coronary artery disease.
People are screened for many types of diseases, such as breast, colon and lung cancer, even when no symptoms are present.
However, there is currently no consensus among physician groups regarding when to use cardiac imaging to screen for heart disease — even though heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Instead, a patient is typically assessed using a combination of historical data and a standard blood test to measure serum lipids and blood glucose levels to arrive at a risk score to help determine if they will have heart disease in the future.
While these risk scores have been proven to be somewhat useful, increasing data indicates that a CAC scan is far more accurate for this purpose.
Coronary calcium builds up at the site of coronary plaque, so a CAC scan can be effective in detecting even minute amounts of CAC.
The scan results are then recorded using a “CAC score,” which represents the total amount of CAC in the coronary arteries. The higher the CAC score, the greater the risk for future heart disease.
“The CAC scan can detect heart disease even decades before the symptoms of heart disease may first appear,” said the study’s lead author, Alan Rozanski, MD.
“Additionally, using current state-of-the-art scanners, CAC scans are associated with only very low radiation exposure, similar to that of a mammogram, and they are less costly than all other types of imaging.”
“Given these advantages, there is increasing interest in determining whether the use of CAC scanning could lead to earlier and more effective treatment of heart disease.”
Research has shown that in approximately 40-60 percent of cases, the first time heart disease is discovered is when a heart attack or death occurs.
“By using imaging for screening, we can detect problems early on, which gives the patient an opportunity to make lifestyle changes to help avoid developing heart disease — such as by improving nutrition, starting to exercise or quitting smoking,” Rozanski said.
“We believe this will not only help improve and save lives but that it can ultimately contribute to lower health costs since the earlier adoption of positive health habits can reduce patients clinical risk and potentially eliminate the need for more costly interventions later on.”
News source: American College of Cardiology. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
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