Salt Lake City, Utah (ABC4 UTAH) — February is American Heart Month, a time when people can focus on their heart health. Intermountain Health Heart Services is working to educate Utahns about ways to enhance their heart health. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease – and about 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

A coronary artery calcium score is obtained from a CT scan of your heart. It measures how much calcium is present in the large blood vessels, known as coronary arteries, that feed your heart.

coronary artery calcium score is a special CT scan that uses a very low radiation dose (similar to a mammogram, and ten times less than a standard CT scan) to detect calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. A CT (computed tomography) scan is a test that uses x-rays to create a clear, detailed image of body tissues.

The presence of calcium indicates underlying heart disease called atherosclerosis — a build up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attacks and damaged heart muscle.

A coronary calcium CT scan helps your doctor detect calcium in the coronary arteries – the arteries that feed your heart muscle.

Calcium in your arteries can show the presence of plaque. Plaque is a buildup of cholesterol (a fatty material), scar tissue, and calcium. If plaque builds up in your arteries, it can narrow or block them — a condition called coronary artery disease. Because coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack, it’s a good idea to find plaque early on so it can be treated.

What does my CAC score mean?

“Your CAC score is a number,” said Viet Le, PA-C, cardiac physician associate at the Intermountain Health Heart and Vascular Program. “Higher numbers mean that there is more calcium buildup in your blood vessels. This gives you a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. When calcium and other plaque build up in the walls of a blood vessel, the opening that blood travels through gets smaller. This makes it easier for blood vessels to become blocked.

When a blockage happens in a blood vessel that feeds the heart, it’s called a heart attack. If it happens in a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it’s called a stroke. Calcium buildup is easy to measure in a CT scan, while other plaque is harder to find so this is a very effective and affordable test to evaluate someone’s risk.”

Researchers at the Intermountain Health Heart and Vascular Program have been studying the effectiveness of coronary artery calcium scans and say the scans are a good way to determine your risk of having a heart attack.

The scan takes approximately 15 minutes. In most cases, the entire appointment only takes about 20 minutes and is quite affordable for most patients. All you need is a referral from your doctor. For more information, visit the Intermountain Health website.

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