ETMC Henderson offers calcium scoring tests

December 28, 2015

A lesser-known, but important test performed at ETMC Henderson can uncover heart disease in its early stages, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Calcium scoring is a low-dose CT scan that searches for the presence of calcium – which indicates the buildup of plaque – on the walls of the coronary arteries. The test is used to check for heart disease in an early stage and to determine its severity. Normally, coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, do not contain calcium.

“The calcium scoring test is a non-invasive way to determine the presence of plaque in the arteries feeding the heart,” said Gordon Uretsky, MD, family medicine physician at the ETMC First Physicians clinic in Henderson. “When plaque is present in the arteries, they become narrowed. The presence of plaque increases the risk of developing clots, which can block the artery. When a coronary artery becomes blocked, the heart doesn’t get enough blood and a heart attack occurs.”

The American Heart Association recommends CT calcium scoring for people over 40 years of age with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood cholesterol levels, a family history of heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

“Studies show that in general, a high calcium score is associated with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The lower the calcium score, the lower the risk,” said Dr. Uretsky. “When scoring indicates plaque buildup, a physician may recommend anything from changes in diet and exercise to stress tests to a referral to a cardiologist for treatment.”

According to Beth Killingsworth, director of radiology at ETMC Henderson, the CT scan takes about 10 minutes. “Once the scan is complete, we send the results to either Dr. Carney or Dr. Hector (cardiologists Robert Carney, MD, FACP, FACC, and David Hector, MD, FACP, FACC, FSCAI, FAAC). They review them and sign off on them. At that time, we will send the results to the patient’s primary care provider.”

While the focus of the scan is the heart, images of other areas are captured as well. “A radiologist with Tyler Radiology Associates will read a ‘limited scan,’ which includes the lungs and liver – whatever is captured on the scan,” Killingsworth said. “The review may reveal lung diseases, such as nodules, masses or plural pneumonia, or liver abnormalities, or better yet, healthy organs.”

According to the AHA, nearly 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2011. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one third of these deaths are preventable by treatment of identified risk factors.
CT calcium scoring is available to the public at ETMC Henderson, without a physician order for $75. Call 903-655-6535 for additional information or to schedule an appointment.