CT Calcium Scoring and Why It’s Important

Dr. Ashkan Shademan, a Body Radiologist from ARA Diagnostic Imaging, discuses heart health and coronary disease on We are Austin. He explains how getting a CT calcium score helps to identify plaque buildup and can prevent devastating heart attacks.




Anchor: Welcome back to We Are Austin from home. Well, you know, February is heart health month and with their heart saver CT scans, ARA Diagnostic Imaging is the place to go if you really want to get a check on your old ticker. Dr. Ashkan Shademan is joining us today. He’s an ARA body radiologist and you’re here today to share how you detect early signs of heart disease. Good morning to you Dr. Shademan, it’s great to see you.

Dr. Shademan: Hi good morning to you, too. I’m Dr. Ashkan Shademan. I’m a radiologist at ARA Diagnostic Imaging. My specialty is body radiology which means that I look at images, mostly MRI and CT, to diagnose medical issues in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

Anchor: Wow, and that’s a really big job, especially this month Dr. Shademan as we’re talking about heart health month. You do there, at ARA Diagnostic Imaging, a CT calcium scoring, and you call it “the heart saver.” Why is it known as that?

Dr. Shademan: Yes, so CT calcium scoring is a screening exam, so you get it before you have any symptoms. It is called the heart saver because it can help us see if you have coronary artery disease before it develops into a serious problem such as a heart attack. 

Anchor: Wow, and you know with ARA Diagnostic Imaging we talk a lot about the prevention, and this sounds right up that alley. Tell us a little bit about coronary artery disease.

Dr. Shademan: Yeah, so, this is an illustration of the heart and the branch and coronary arteries in red that supply blood and nutrients directly to the heart. Coronary artery disease is a common condition in which chronic inflammation leads to deposits of fat, cholesterol, and calcium in the walls of the coronary arteries. These deposits are referred to as plaque. Hard plaques happen when plaque causes an abrupt blockage of the coronary artery, robbing the heart of the blood it needs to function. This can happen very suddenly and often without warning symptoms. 

Anchor: Oh, so, I’m curious. Can you actually, can you feel the plaque in your heart?

Dr. Shademan: Although this plaque buildup can eventually lead to a sudden, devastating heart attack, it often has no symptoms that you can feel. Which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “the silent killer,” especially in women but men as well.

Anchor: Well, that’s very good to know and probably we should ask, is coronary artery disease common?

Dr. Shademan: Coronary artery disease or heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. So yes, it’s very common. The problem is figuring out who is currently walking around with significant disease and who is not. Essentially trying to find who would actually benefit from preventive treatments today.

Anchor: Right, so how does the CT calcium scoring help you and the team there at ARA diagnose heart disease?

Dr. Shademan: CT calcium scoring is a quick, comfortable non-invasive exam that can tell you and your medical provider if your coronary arteries have plaque. It produces images of the heart that clearly show the level of plaque blockage. You simply relax on the bed of one of our CT scanners and the exam is completed in just a few minutes. This is a CT scan to a normal heart. Notice there are no prominent areas of white which would indicate the presence of these calcified plaques in the coronary arteries. Here is a scan with moderate plaque buildup in one of the coronary arteries. The highlighted white area is the calcified plaque. And here is a scan of a heart with severe plaque buildup in the coronary arteries. This person is in danger of having a heart attack and may not even know it.

Anchor: And so, I understand that, after this exam you’ll actually receive as a patient a report that gives you a score kind of on your level of plaque?

Dr. Shademan: That’s right and here’s the scale that the radiologists use to classify the level of plaque buildup in coronary arteries. As you can see, the scale goes from 0 to 400. 0 indicates a very low risk of heart attack from plaque buildup. Over 400 indicates a greater than 90% chance of having a heart attack. ARA radiologists share this with you and your medical provider so you can make more informed decisions about when it’s time to take appropriate steps to prevent heart attack. 

Anchor: Yeah, and those next steps, in fact, it’s a great question. You’ve got your score, your scan, what are the next steps after going to find out what your level of blockage is?

Dr. Shademan: Well, depending on the level of plaque buildup, treatments may include lifestyle modifications, medications, coronary interventions, or surgery. But the important thing is to identify the problem early before it becomes life threatening.

Anchor: Right, and you’ve mentioned that sometimes this can be without symptoms. Some of us right now are maybe walking around with this dangerous condition. Who exactly is at risk and who should really be thinking hard about having a CT calcium score?

Dr. Shademan: Right, so, the most prominent risk factors are obesity, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, family history, and age of about 50. Even if you have none of these risk factors, a CT calcium scoring exam is recommended once you turn about 55 years old. If you are in this age group or have these risk factors, you should definitely ask your healthcare provider about the benefits of CT calcium scoring at ARA. 

Anchor: Wow, certainly big bang for your buck there with this CT calcium scoring for sure. So, if somebody is at home thinking, “This sounds like this might be a good idea for me,” what are the next steps for someone to take to get this amazing heart saver scan?

Dr. Shademan: Well, talk it over with your medical provider and see if CT calcium scoring is recommended for you. Then get a referral and call ARA at (512) 453-6100. You can also make an appointment for CT calcium scoring without a referral but be sure and have the results sent to your doctor so you can consult about next steps if needed.

Anchor: Absolutely. And we’re gonna put that information on the screen for you right now. You can also head to ausrad.com to make your appointment for the heart saver CT calcium scoring. Dr. Shademan, this is a really incredible technology and such important information, not just now in heart health month, but for our viewers and for the rest of the year. We appreciate you joining us to share this really important information.

Dr. Shademan: Sure, thank you so much.

Anchor: Our pleasure. And stay right there, friends, there’s more We are Austin coming up right after this.

Please note: When talking to your health care provider about getting a CT calcium scoring, be sure and discuss any symptoms you may be having, including chest pain or pain in the arms, back neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath; palpitations; nausea; and fatigue.

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