Heart disease tragically affects almost every family in the United States. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming more than 616,000 lives in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, arrhythmia and angina.

Some risk factors are part of our individual genetics, and others can be caused by lifestyle choices. Both include:

  • Being a man older than 40
  • Being a woman older than 50 or postmenopausal
  • Having an abnormal cholesterol level
  • Sharing a family history of heart disease
  • Living with diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Not being physical active

“It is vital to take the proper steps to monitor heart health, before a problem develops,” explains Michael Pressel, M.D., a cardiologist at the Heart Center at Sinai in Baltimore, Maryland. “An effective way to do this is with a calcium scoring screening, a non-invasive, painless test that, along with other indicators, presents an overview of an individual’s heart health.”

Cardiac calcium scoring is a screening used to detect calcium deposits in coronary arteries. The existence of calcium deposits is directly linked to coronary plaque, which, in turn, is directly connected to the risk that coronary disease could develop.

There is no preparation necessary for a calcium scoring scan, and the entire process takes less than an hour. First, a brief personal and family history is taken, and then a computed tomography (CT) scan of the heart and coronary arteries is performed. The scanner takes dozens of images during the fractions of a second between heartbeats.

“Using the CT scan and the patient’s history, a total calcium score is calculated,” adds Dr. Pressel. “That score is then compared to patient databases according to gender and age to come up with a final number. The lower the score, the better it is, and a figure of 150 or more indicates an unhealthy buildup of calcium deposits.”

Individuals are then encouraged to discuss the results with their own doctors. A plan of action can be tailored to each person’s unique needs. That plan can be anything from eating a healthier diet, exercising, regularly checking blood pressure and cholesterol, managing diabetes, or taking medications as prescribed.

There is cost for the test, which is typically not covered by insurance. For more information or to schedule a cardiac calcium scoring screening, call 410-601-WELL (9355).