Local News

Test Can Pick Up Plaque Build-Up In Heart

Posted March 30, 2005 4:30 a.m. EST

— Most people with symptoms of heart disease know they are at risk of a heart attack, but almost half of those who have had a heart attack had no prior symptoms. Many doctors are turning to a test to find plaque build-up in the arteries before symptoms appear.

Fred Barber knows about standard tests that measure his risk of a heart attack like angiograms and stress tests, but as a retired TV executive, he is into pictures, so he asked his doctor about CT Heart Scans.

"I knew that, just based on my smoking history and other factors, there's some risk there," he said.

Plaque build-up in the arteries eventually harden or calcify, which is something CT scans pick up well. Cardiovascular radiologist Dr. Rans Douglas scores the amount of calcification on a scale beginning at 0, meaning no risk up to the thousands meaning serious risk.

The scores are balanced with the patient's age. The information is later sent back to the patient's doctor.

"For Wake radiology specifically, we've always required that they be referred from a doctor, so that again, this information can be put in the hands of the people who can actually act on it and use it," Douglas said.

Barber has never experienced symptoms of cardiovascular disease, but almost half of those who have heart attacks do not.

Barber is on high blood pressure and cholesterol medication, and he has a family history of heart disease.

"I thought I should take a look at it and I'm glad I did. I think I probably need to take some steps to be even more careful," Barber said.

The CT Heart Scan is not a new technology, but over time, the scan has proved to be a very accurate predictor of heart attack risks.