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Another clue to heart health

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Another clue to heart health

The cost of a coronary calcium scan, though still not covered by insurance in the U.S., has come down significantly — to about $100, in some cases — and could be of great value for millions of aging Americans at risk of life-threatening heart disease. It is one of two currently popular non-invasive X-ray techniques to assess cardiac risk and help determine who could benefit from treatments to ward off a crippling or fatal heart attack. The other test, a CT angiogram, is usually covered by insurance but is most often done only when other tests or symptoms suggest possible blockages in the arteries that feed the heart. A cardiac calcium scan is a specialised type of low-dose X-ray that highlights calcium deposits in the plaque that can line and clog arteries feeding the heart. The more calcium, the more plaque a person is likely to have and the greater the risk of a blockage that can precipitate a heart attack if a piece of plaque breaks loose. The procedure, known as multi-slice computerised tomography, does not require that a dye be injected into the bloodstream to visualise the coronary arteries, though the findings are less precise than those from a CT angiogram, which requires a dye. A calcium scan is most useful to assess patients considered to be at moderate risk of heart disease, as well as those whose risk is uncertain. A calcium score of 1 to 99 is considered indicative of mild disease; a score of 100 to 399, moderate disease; and a score of 400 or higher, severe disease. But measuring coronary calcium is not a surefire indication of a person’s risk. But doctors warn that having zero coronary calcium is not a licence to ignore well-established cardiac risk factors such as elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking, overweight and a sedentary lifestyle. – JANE E. BRODY

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