Knowing the Answer Could Prevent a Heart Attack!

Jul 8, 2021

Each year, approximately 655,000, or one in four Americans die from heart disease, including coronary artery disease (CAD), which is the main cause of heart attacks. Heart attacks are the primary cause of death amongst men and women in the United States.

While heart disease cannot be cured, people reduce their risk of CAD, heart attack, and stroke by adopting a healthier lifestyle that includes regular exercise, stress management, and smoking cessation. Educational campaigns conducted by the American Heart Association and other advocacy groups have focused on the importance of adopting a healthier lifestyle.

In an effort to focus on prevention of heart disease, physicians are now focusing on ways to determine a person’s risk of developing CAD before it leads to debilitating outcomes. A screening procedure gaining significant attention for this purpose known as Low Dose Computed Tomography (CT) Cardiac Calcium Score (CCS), known as a Heart Scan. Heart Scan is a 10-minute, non-invasive test that scans the heart to determine the location and extent of calcified plaque in in the coronary arteries. This special type of imaging takes very detailed, 3D pictures of the main arteries that supply oxygen to the heart.

“A CCS helps primary care providers and cardiology specialists determine a patient’s risk for developing coronary artery disease,” said Paul Pizzella, MD, president of Southtowns Radiology, and a board-certified radiologist for Mercy Hospital of Buffalo. “The study allows providers to see the bigger picture. It can justify a lifestyle adjustment or determine a treatment plan based on amounts of calcified plaque seen in the arteries.” Heart Scan scores range from zero (very little to no risk of developing CAD), to over 400 (very high risk for CAD). “When patients and providers are on the same page, they can work as a team to take corrective action early,” noted Dr. Pizzella, adding, “CCS screening is most commonly ordered for men age 40+ and women age 50+ who have a family history of heart disease, or increased risk levels of CAD based on lifestyle.”

Because this test is relatively new, it is not part of standard guidelines for heart screenings and not all insurance plans cover it. But it is likely to be used more frequently in the future, as several studies comparing it with other tests have shown its effectiveness in determining the risk of cardiac events. The cost of the test can range from $100 to $200, but Dr. Pizzella encourages patients and providers to consider the personal direct and indirect costs of a heart attack.

“Preventive screenings like this are aimed at saving lives and reducing costs associated with treatment and care post-diagnosis,” said Dr. Pizzella. “We hope that with increased knowledge, patients will talk with their providers about whether this test is a viable option for their overall health plan.”

This article appeared on 4/26/2021 in Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine Online.