CT Calcium Scoring Scan Predicts Your Risk of Heart Attack

Dr. Jeff Wood, a radiologist with ARA Diagnostic Imaging, shares important information about how a CT Calcium scoring scan predicts your risk of a heart attack with KEYE-TV’s Trevor Scott on CBS Austin’s ‘We Are Austin.’

(Trevor Scott) Welcome back to “We Are Austin.”

Did you know February is American Heart Month, and Dr. Jeff Wood from ARA Diagnostic Imaging is here this morning with really important information for men and women about coronary artery disease, including a simple screening exam that’s called CT calcium scoring that can let you know if you are in danger of a heart attack.

Good morning, Dr. Wood, it’s always great to see you. Thanks for being here.

(Dr. Jeff Wood) Good morning, nice to see you. Long time.

(Trevor) It’s been too long and I’m glad we’re touching base and reconnecting on such an important topic. So many people are at risk for this, but let’s back up a little bit first.

We always like to get to know our guests and let’s tell the folks at home a little bit more about yourself and what you do there at ARA Diagnostic Imaging.

(Dr. Wood) Sure, yeah.

I’m one of the radiologists over here, a big team of us. I tend to do musculoskeletal but many of us do what we consider “body” as well, or general radiology.

(Trevor) Amazing, and we’re here today to talk to you. You are the expert about heart attacks and this amazing scan that can help you know if you are at risk. But first, many people may not know exactly, what is a heart attack? What’s happening?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah.

So the heart, everyone knows, is kind of the pump for the body, right? And it’s gonna take fresh blood that has oxygen from the lungs, pump that around to all of the parts of the body that need oxygen.

The problem is, is that it’s also a muscle and it needs oxygen as well. And so, a heart attack is when the plumbing for itself actually gets clogged up for a multitude of reasons, but actually it can’t get its own oxygen and it gets a bad cramp. It’s kind of what happens and then that muscle can die.

(Trevor) Interesting.

Well, when you have conversations about heart health, I know in this past year, my dear father-in-law actually suffered a heart attack, and we learned a little bit more about this.

You hear the word “plaque” a lot. What exactly is plaque?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, so when we talk about, again, sort of the pump, you think of that side as more of the plumbing. So, all of these tubes are kind of like a hose or your pipe in your house. If you think about some of those old pipes over time, they can get a buildup on the inside.

So, when we talk about the body with vessels, we talk about plaque, and that could be a mixture of sort of this soft or hard plaque. And that can slowly over time decrease the diameter or the overall size capacity of the blood that can flow through there. And sometimes, most frequently with a heart attack, a little piece of that can fall, chip off and actually go downstream and get in the way, and block the blood flow to that part of the heart.

(Trevor) Interesting.

So how common is this and how common is coronary artery disease?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, unfortunately, it’s incredibly common. It’s one of the leading causes of death for adults over the age of 55, for both men and women.

(Trevor) Interesting, and that’s where you come in at ARA Diagnostic Imaging. Radiology has an answer for that.

(Dr. Wood) Yes. This is actually part of the preventative care idea, right? It’s how can we find things that people are asymptomatic for and then can cause really, really big difficulties. And in this segment we’re gonna talk about CT calcium scoring.

(Trevor) Yeah, and that is really kind of the hero of today’s story. We’ve had a chance to chat about this briefly in the past, and it really is an incredible tool, and it’s CT calcium scoring. It’s known as the heart saver, because it really is so impactful. Tell us a little bit more about that.

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, it’s a very quick and easy scan. No IV needed; nothing. You just go check-in, it’s five minutes, lay on a table, run through the little scanner, and you’re done.

We actually do a lot of the stuff on the back-end with computer algorithms and software, and we do a bunch of the “techy magic stuff,” we’ll call it.

(Trevor) Yeah.

(Dr. Wood) We get a report out and we can actually quantify how much plaque or sort of stratify your risk of none, medium, low, high, that kind of idea.

(Trevor) Wow.

(Dr. Wood) And then based on that, we can send you for different things or just follow it intermittently.

(Trevor) Wow, that’s an incredible tool. It really is kind of like peeking into your health future.

I’m curious though, can we see what plaque looks like on a CT image? And then can we learn a little bit more about how you actually make your diagnosis following that scoring?

(Dr. Wood) Sure, that’d be great. I think we have a couple examples we can show here.

(Trevor) Perfect.

(Dr. Wood) So with this first image we’re showing here, this is what we would consider a normal or baseline. There’s no plaque here. So, as you’re looking at this portion of the heart, we’re actually seeing one of the main coronary arteries. So, one of the main vessels that feeds the heart pump itself. And this has no plaque. So, we’ll show one in a minute that you can see a little bit of a difference, but this is what we hope to see and what would be considered sort of low risk or normal.

(Trevor) And then our next one is a little bit of a step up.

(Dr. Wood) Yep, so this is sort of… On a spectrum, this would be kind of low-grade or mild. And as you look at sort of the same level of the heart here, now we’re getting a little bit of this kind of white stuff that you guys see. And for us that’s starting to be that little bit of plaque that’s inside of the vessel. And that doesn’t mean that that’s the extent of it, but the part we can see starts to increase your risk, right? Because now we can see a little bit of it filling up the inside of the tube.

(Trevor) And tell us about this last patient. What are we seeing here?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, unfortunately, these are the ones that we don’t want to see, but all too often do, and this is sort of the reason that this test is so beneficial, is for a lot of people, they’re asymptomatic. They’re walking around, they’re living their life, they don’t know that they’re at such high risk.

And we look here, and you can see extensive plaque throughout this, almost completely narrowing that part of the vessel to where we can’t hardly get any blood through. This person is gonna be someone we’re gonna have to start getting more extensive tests, but we may have saved their life.

(Trevor) Absolutely, so this patient, it’d be safe to say, is in danger of a heart attack?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, unfortunately, much so. And as we go down the line, it’s only gonna get worse, right?

(Trevor) Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned a very interesting thing about this conversation, is that some of us, maybe many of us, are walking around with coronary artery disease right now. And you mentioned earlier that sometimes it’s asymptomatic, you may not feel anything.

So, who is at risk, and who really should be looking closely and thinking about scheduling a CT calcium scoring?

(Dr. Wood) So yeah, a lot of the risks that we see unfortunately are common with many other health problems. Whether that’s obesity, smoking, poor diet, diabetes, some of the things that are very common.

Additionally, it’s family risk and sort of the genetic portion of it, which many of us don’t necessarily know. So, this can be very helpful for those.

And then anyone, just as we get a higher birthday. 55 is usually what we consider normal to where we’d like to start screening for this if you don’t have other risk factors.

(Trevor) Interesting.

So, if someone is interested, and they might fall in one of the categories that you just spoke of, and they really kind of know what’s going on in there, how do they take those steps to get a CT calcium scoring?

(Dr. Wood) Yeah, most commonly you guys can have a discussion with your healthcare provider. However, if you need more information, a great resource is just on our website, which is ausrad.com. A-U-S-R-A-D.com. We have quite a bit more that you can do there.

(Trevor) Well, this has really been a fascinating conversation. As you know, I’m a big fan of these conversations with ARA. They’re so informative for me and for so many people out there. And for this particular conversation, potentially lifesaving.

If you wanna learn a little bit more about ARA Diagnostic Imaging, you can go to the information, the website on your screen right there and maybe think about making those steps towards scheduling your CT calcium scoring.

Dr. Wood, thanks for joining us today. Really great information. Thanks for letting our viewers know.

(Dr. Wood) Absolutely. It’s always great to chat with you, Trevor.

(Trevor) It sure is. We’ll see you soon. Thank you.

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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