• Seeing Is Believing
Posted by Joseph F. McWherter, MD on February 19, 2013
The shortcomings of traditional medicine’s approach to heart disease is summarized by the sobering statistics that 70% of heart attacks and 50% of sudden deaths related to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) occur in people never diagnosed with the disease.
Don’t count on an EKG being the answer. How many times have we heard about a friend or relative who suddenly died of heart attack a few weeks after passing an EKG test? Stress testing also fails to be effective in screening people with no symptoms for heart disease.
We seem to fixate on our cholesterol scores as the defining marker for heart disease, yet it’s the plaque load in the coronary arteries supplying the heart muscle which determines your ultimate risk. An invaluable yet relatively unknown screening tool which not only determines your plaque load but also identifies the whereabouts of the plaque is the “Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring” test.
An ultra-fast CT (electron beam computed tomography) scanner detects specks of calcium in the coronary arteries by imaging the surface of the heart. The detection of calcium by CT scanning indicates the presence of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which then alerts you to pursue further sophisticated testing in order to determine the amount of blockage.
The Coronary Artery Calcium Score – which takes about 10 minutes – allows the detection of atherosclerosis prior to having any symptoms. Why wait till your first heart attack or even sudden death?
Summation of the total amount of calcium detected is directly correlated to the risk of future heart disease.
Coronary Calcium Score Cardiovascular Disease Likelihood (odds)
0 no calcium detected/ <1%
160 and above 35:1
A score above 50 indicates that you have atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries and should start an anti-inflammatory wellness program as described in my previous blogs and website.
The total coronary artery calcium score also helps a woman determine her need to monitor cholesterol levels. The preventative cardiologist I use has indicated that a calcium score of zero would argue against treatment with cholesterol lowering agents even if that total number exceeded 300mg/dl. A calcium score of 50 or greater would require further assessment and possibly tighter cholesterol control.
The other proactive impact provided by a coronary calcium score is best described by the Chinese proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Seeing your heart filled with plaque, especially in the LAD artery (the artery of sudden death), is quite a motivating experience.
In a future blog, I will discuss a proactive heart ECM stabilizing program which includes controlling elevated bad cholesterol without the use of statins.