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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Calcium Scores, A Simple Screening Test for Heart Disease

Today we will have a brief interview with cardiologist Dr. Barry Tedder about calcium scores. Heart disease is the number one cause of death with 1,655,767 deaths in the United States since Jan. 1, 2008. A calcium score is a screening test for heart disease much like the ones for cancer. Many people will die with their first heart attack but have no warning signs.

What exactly is a calcium score? A calcium score is a CT scan that measures the amount of calcium in the heart arteries. It is a useful screening test to help doctors determine if a person has any coronary disease or blockage. This test can predict a patient's future risk of having a heart attack. Heart blockage consists of hard (calcium) and soft plaque build up.

Who should have a calcium score? Anyone who already has at least 2 other risk factors for heart disease which are: high blood pressure, smoking, family history, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol. Based on SHAPE guidelines, any man over 45 and women over 55 should have a calcium score. Shape stands for the National Screening for Heart Attack Prevention and Education Program.

What is the purpose of this test? Calcium scores are a useful tool to determine whether your doctor should prescribe medication for prevention of future heart disease or perform other tests.

What is a normal score? Abnormal? A normal score is O, which means the patient has a low risk of having a heart attack in the next 5 years. A score over 400 means the patient has a substantial risk for having a heart attack in the next five years. A stress test is recommended for scores over 400.

What does this test involve? This is a simple test which only takes a few minutes. The patient lays on a CT scan table, wearing clothes and no medication is necessary.

What is the cost? Depending on where you live, it can cost from $75 to $200 and is not covered by insurance at this time. In Texas, insurance does cover the cost due to recent legislation.

How can I schedule one? You can call your local cardiologist's office or speak to your family physician.

For more information, you can go to the This website is pretty technical but they also have video information that is easier to understand on Please discuss any concerns you have with your family physician as they will be happy to refer you to a cardiologist if your symptoms warrant further investigation. Please don't ignore your heart health!