Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. It’s important to take proper measurements to know your risks and prevent heart disease. Click to learn more about the CT heart scan that Dr. Stahl references in this video.  


Anchor: Welcome back to We Are Austin. Around Valentine’s day we see red hearts everywhere, but Dr. Cosette Stahl from ARA Diagnostic Imaging shares how you can keep your real heart healthy all year long. It’s super important stuff, we’re glad you’re here – thank you.

Dr. Stahl: Yes, thank you so much for having me.

Anchor: So what’s important for us to know when it comes to our heart health?

Dr. Stahl: Sure, so because it’s heart health month, I thought we could talk a little bit about our risk for heart disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, it actually accounts for 1 out of 3 deaths. So that’s a large proportion of our population that actually suffering from coronary artery disease.

Anchor: Yeah

Dr. Stahl: So what is that? This is a diagram of the heart, so you can see these are actually our heart chambers and this is the aorta that pumps blood out towards the rest of our body. These little red lines here are our coronary arteries and that’s what brings oxygen and nutrients to our heart itself so we can pump appropriately.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: When you have arteriosclerosis, you get calcification of those blood vessels that narrows the blood vessels, reducing the blood flow to the heart.

Anchor: Yeah

Dr. Stahl: And that can cause a lot of problems. The main thing that most Americans are aware of is that coronary artery disease can cause a heart attack, but that can also lead to other problems such as chronic heart failure. It can also lead to abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. You can think of arteriosclerosis as also affecting other blood vessels that go to your brain and that can actually result in stroke. So, this is a process that affects the whole body and something we need to be aware of and try to detect and prevent those fatal outcomes.

Anchor: Yeah, very proactive. So how do we know if there’s plaque buildup?

Dr. Stahl: So most of the time we don’t know if we actually have coronary artery disease, and the best thing we can do is go to our physicians and ask them if they think we would be at risk.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: They can evaluate our blood pressure and our cholesterol levels and then they may ask us to get a cardiac, CT heart scan.

Anchor: Yeah

Dr. Stahl: So this is a patient undergoing a CT scan. You can see he just lays on the table, the CT scan take short pictures of just the heart.

Anchor: Localized in that area, okay.

Dr. Stahl: Yeah, just localized in that area. And then we can identify how much plaque is in those blood vessels and see if you’re at risk.

Anchor: Yeah. So what are these different images here? I can imagine the different stages of plaque buildup.

Dr. Stahl: Exactly. So CT scans are very difficult to look at if you’ve never seen one before. You can look at this as seeing a chest being sliced like a loaf of bread. These black areas are the lungs and this part in the middle is the heart. The coronary arteries are actually these gray structures that come off of the aorta. Okay, and this is an example of someone who has no calcification. I’ll show you an example here of someone who has moderate plaque – here you can see that same blood vessel, that coronary artery, and you can see that bright white dot.

Anchor: Gotcha, okay.

Dr. Stahl: And that’s an indication that there’s calcium involving that blood vessel.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: Okay. Someone who has an extensive plaque burden, you can see that there’s calcification on all of the blood vessels going to the heart and that portends a poor prognosis and you can say that they have a high risk of succumbing to a cardiac event.

Anchor: Gotcha, so what’s the best thing to do to stay proactive about our health?

Dr. Stahl: Well, let’s back track a little bit and see this is kind of how the heart report comes out after your scan and that will tell you what your calcium score is and how your score compares to those of patients with similar age and similar gender.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: So that can tell you whether you need to do something to change your biology.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: So what can we do? A lot of things we can do are behavior modification, so increasing your exercise, changing your diet, those are probably two of the main factors that will help you prevent cardiac disease.

Anchor: Yeah

Dr. Stahl: But also, there are other things you can do, like this says, you want to decrease your risk factors.

Anchor: Mhmm

Dr. Stahl: Okay, so the major risk factors being obesity which also includes diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. So using exercise modification and diet, you can change those things
to prevent some cardiac events.

Anchor: Thank you so much for all this info. So how do we find more about you guys and stay on top of it?

Dr. Stahl: Sure. So Austin Radiological Association is all over Austin so you can feel free to go to our website or visit one of our clinics. The great thing about cardiac studies is you don’t need a referral from a clinician; you can actually just walk into our clinic and it’s a low cost to the patient by just walking in and paying a mere $75 dollars.

Anchor: Thank you so much for all of that today. That’s such important work and we appreciate you being here.

Dr. Stahl: Thank you for having me.

Anchor: Stick around we got more We Are Austin.