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What’s Your Risk of Heart Disease? This 5-Minute Test Can Tell You

September 03, 2020

Two-thirds of adults are at risk of heart disease. Are you?

Calcium scoring, a simple, affordable test, is one of the most effective tests in determining your risk of heart disease. And your calcium score might just surprise you.

“People who we think are at high risk often have a score of 0, which can be very reassuring,” says Dr. Jeffrey Berman, Chairman of Cardiovascular Services at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “People who might be considered low risk often surprise us with the level of calcification in their coronary which moves them into a higher risk category. We can then decide how aggressively to treat that risk factor.”

Who’s Most at Risk?

“Both men and women are at risk,” says Dr.Berman. “Men tend to get heart disease 10 years earlier than women, but their lifetime risk is about the same.”

Common risk factors for heart disease:

  • Family history.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • Elevated cholesterol.
  • Smoking.

Although it’s important to address common risk factors with your doctor, a cardiac event can occur unexpectedly in someone not considered high risk.

“The scariest thing is when a 50-year-old person suddenly drops dead or has a serious cardiac event,” says Dr. Berman. “It’s a real wake-up call. There’s a lot of concern – and there should be.”

What’s Your Risk?

“Coronary disease is, in a large respect, a lifestyle disease,” says Dr. Berman. “You need to find out if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Calcium scoring is another great risk assessment.”

About the Calcium Scan

“It’s a very simple test,” says Dr. Berman, “a CT scan that only takes about 5 minutes. There’s no dye and very little radiation involved. It’s looking for calcium in the coronary arteries.

“The calcium shows up as a very bright spot on the cat scan. Then a score is developed to determine how much calcium is there. That score correlates with your risk of cardiac events.”

How Do You Score?

“The best score is 0,” says Berman. “That means we see no calcium in the arteries. Interestingly, about 40% of people have that score. Those people have a very low risk of having a cardiac event in the next 10 years. Most of that 0 score group will not need to be put on statin therapy.”

  • 1-100 indicates low to a slightly higher risk than 0.
  • 101-400 is considered a moderate risk group.
  • 400-plus is considered a relatively high risk for having significant blockages and coronary disease.

Calcium Scoring Accuracy

“Of all the tests that we have it’s probably the most accurate,” says Dr. Berman. “The Framingham Risk Score looks at hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, age and smoking, but the calcium score has been shown to be better than the Framingham score. It’s a very useful test for asymptomatic risk of heart disease.”

Who Should Get Calcium Score Testing?

“The guideline we like to follow is any male over 45, and any female over 55, should go ahead and get their calcium score as part of their risk determination,” says Dr. Berman.

Where to Start

Talk to your primary care physician about calcium scoring. But you don’t need a physician referral for the test. Some insurance plans will cover the test but you can also self-pay for calcium scoring which typically costs between $100 and $200.