Your heart works hard for you all day, every day. It’s important to keep the pipes clean to allow adequate blood supply to this hard-working muscle; you definitely don’t want it running out of gas. How are we to know what our coronary arteries are doing, though? How do we know our cardiovascular risk?
Obviously, lifestyle plays a huge part in having a general knowledge of your cardiac health. We monitor cholesterol levels and perform stress tests but short of a nuclear scan, it can be difficult to assess whether or not the plaque is building up on your cardiac vessels. One easy, non-invasive way to check for this is the Coronary Artery Calcium Score (CAC).
The CAC is a non-contrast CT scan. It looks at the heart and shows calcium deposits in the coronary vessels which are associated with atherosclerosis. You get a score based on how many areas and how much calcium you see. Zero is ideal. Up to 10 is a very minimal amount of plaque and low risk for a coronary event, like a heart attack. 11-100 shows you have some plaque and moderate risk for a coronary artery event. 101-400 is a moderate amount of plaque and anything over 400 is a large amount of plaque. The risk for a cardiac event is high in the latter to categories. (Keep in mind, there are some adjustments made for age, what might be considered high risk in a 30 year old is likely a very low risk for an 80 year old.)
When calcium has built up in the vessel, it is monitoring damage done. There has already been inflammation and damage to the endothelial cells of the arteries. There is no way to treat the calcium build up, per se. You are essentially on notice to try to stop further development of plaques with diet, exercise, and sometimes medication (generally a cholesterol lowering medication, like a statin).
If you have concerns about your heart health, sit down and have a conversation with your provider. If you don’t have a provider, then come see us. We’d be happy help you on your journey to wellness.
-Brooke Rieth NP