Dr. Robert Lieberman Discusses CT Calcium Scoring


Anchor: Welcome back to We are Austin. Thanks for being with us this morning. For many medical issues, early detection can make a huge difference. Doctor Robert Lieberman is from ARA Diagnostic Imaging and he is here to tell us about a screening that can help people spot coronary artery disease. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Dr: Thanks for having me.

Anchor: Before we dive into this, what exactly is it that you do?

Dr: So, I’m Doctor Robert Lieberman. I’m an Interventional Radiologist at ARA. So, you know everyone knows that radiologists read diagnostic exams but I also specialize in providing minimally invasive image guided procedures. Hopefully pain free in the process.

Anchor: Cool. So, what exactly is CT calcium scoring and why is that known as a heart saver?

Dr: So, it’s great. It’s a screening exam. Essentially, its goal is to detect heart disease earlier in the process so we can prevent that devastating heart attack down the line.

Anchor: Yeah.

Dr: Essentially, this is a picture of the heart and you can see there’s two branching red arteries here. Those are the coronary arteries. They supply,

Anchor: These guys?

Dr: Yeah, those guys. So, they supply, you know, oxygen, nutrients to the heart muscle so as it pumps, every single day throughout the life, throughout your life, it needs nutrients and those arteries are the ones that supply it.

Anchor: This guy’s so important!

Dr: It is.

Anchor: Our heart is so critical! So, how does CT calcium scoring help diagnose heart disease specifically?

Dr: So this gentleman, he’s getting the exam. He’s laying on the bed. It takes literally two, three, four minutes.

Anchor: Okay.

Dr: It’s pain free. You go into the machine, you sit there. It takes CT images through just the heart and then you’re done. There’s no needle sticks.
Anchor: Right.

Dr: There’s no medication involved. It takes a couple of minutes.

Anchor: That’s what everyone wants to hear.

Dr: Exactly.

Anchor: Don’t they? And it’s comfortable and not very long at all.

Dr: No, no.

Anchor: Okay, and so, then what is it you would be looking at?

Dr: So, this is a slice from a CT coronary exam. This is the heart in the middle. These bright white structures, those are the calcified bones and that calcium is the key. We’re looking for a similar white calcium along the coronary artery here. This patient doesn’t have any plaque so that’s actually good news. There’s none there. They’re at very low risk.

Anchor: So, this is healthy?

Dr: Very healthy.

Anchor: Very low risk. Okay, so what else are we looking at?

Dr: So, this person has a moderate amount of plaque. Someone was nice enough to put the red circle around that bright white spot. This person is at risk for having an increased heart attack or coronary event in the near future. Unfortunately, with the Whataburger diet in Texas it gets worse. This patient has a lot of plaque. You can see.

Achor: Oh, yeah.

Dr: Those bright white spots. This person actually has a very high risk of having a heart attack in the near future. Essentially, this person needs to get treated soon.

Anchor: My goodness, so that’s what you want to look out for. So as I understand it, after the exam you receive a report that scores your level of plaque like that?

Dr: Exactly. So, the report goes from zero to over 400. Zero was that first patient, very low chance of having heart diseases in the future. Over 400 is very highly likely. And these people in the middle, these are the people we’re trying to capture earlier.

Anchor: Right.

Dr: We’re trying to get them on some sort of intervention that will prevent that heart attack five, ten, twenty years down the line.

Anchor: And that’s why prevention is so important and getting these screenings. So what exactly would next steps be after you’ve gotten your level of blockage figured out?

Dr: So once you figure out where you fall, the first step would be lifestyle and diet modifications. Maybe avoid that late trip to Whataburger. Unfortunately, most of our patients are beyond that point.

Anchor: Yeah.

Dr: And might need medication like aspirin or some kind of anti-cholesterol medication. Coronary catheterization, you can actually go into those arteries, open it up, and then that last step is surgery. That dreaded double, triple, quadruple bypass you’ve probably heard about.

Anchor: Mm hm.

Dr: At that point you don’t have a lot of options so we’re trying to get it way back in the medication phase where we can actually prevent it from happening.

Anchor: Yeah, and that’s great to hear. So, you talked about your patients. So, who should be having CT calcium scoring?

Dr: So, basically, you know, anyone over the age of 50 should already be considering getting this just as age is a major risk factor. Even as low as 40, if you have some of these other things you should consider it. Anyone that has a strong family history and maybe smokes. You’re already, even at the age of 40, you’re already at a high risk so you should already be considering getting the CT coronary calcium exam to see if you fall into that higher risk factor, rather,, high risk category.

Anchor: And it’s nice to know, right? Cause it helps diminish some of your anxiety when you have more information.

Dr: Oh my gosh. And anxiety leads to more stress, which leads to more heart disease. It’s a vicious cycle.

Anchor: Yeah, it truly is. Okay and then you mentioned these and poor diet, all of that.

Dr: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, at ARA we’ve really streamlined the process of getting these CT coronary calcium exams done. It’s only $75 but if you talk to your primary care provider, a lot of times insurance companies will cover this just because they love spending $75 now to prevent that heart attack down the line that’s gonna cost them and you 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars.

Anchor: Yes.

Dr: So, $75 is a steal.

Anchor: And not to mention your life and your health, right?

Dr: Exactly.

Anchor: It’s super important. So, what are those next steps people can take to setting up that?

Dr: So, it’s time to, you know, contact your healthcare provider. See if you fall under any of those categories. And even if insurance won’t cover it, your healthcare provider and you are concerned because you have been smoking since you were 15 or you have those risk factors, call us (512) 453-6100. Feel free to set it up. We’d be glad to take you.

Anchor: Awesome. Dr. Lieberman, thanks for all that great info and for what you do to help people and save their lives.

Dr: Thanks for having me.

Anchor: We appreciate it!

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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