Simple Test Can Detect Risk of Heart Disease

Times Cardiac Scoring: A Personal Reflection

human heartBy Robert E. Neilson '70

I usually look forward to reading the electronic newsletters Norwich sends out detailing recent events associated with the University. Lately, I open those same newsletters with some degree of trepidation. I am increasingly alarmed at the number of my classmates (NU 1970) who have died suddenly from heart ailments -- despite being in reasonably good health. Little did I suspect that, if not for a simple test I was lucky enough to take, one of those names in the "Memorial Announcements" could easily have been mine.

About nine months ago, I had the opportunity to partake in a study involving cardiac scoring -- a non-invasive, 16-slice CT imaging of the heart and surrounding arteries (1). The procedure took about 10 minutes and required me to lie flat while an imaging machine traversed my chest area. I had no symptoms of heart disease. I've never smoked, drink only red wine and beer, and still run and lift weights several times a week. My cholesterol was below 200, and I'm not overweight. Regarding family history of heart disease, most males in my family died in their eighties. In other words, from the outside I was a picture of health (just like the folks featured in the Lipitor ads you see on TV).

Much to my surprise, the scoring showed a buildup of calcium in my left main artery. The buildup was confirmed with a thallium stress test, and I now take a statin drug to prevent additional coronary plaque build up. I strongly urge more senior members of the Norwich community to undertake this simple CT imaging procedure. If the results show there is a problem, you can deal with it. If not, you can rest a little easier.

Since cardiac scoring is a relatively new procedure, it may not be covered by all types of health insurance. However, it will be the best $350-$600 (depending on area) you'll ever spend on yourself or a loved one. As always, talk to your physician or health care provider, or go to Google and search on "cardiac scoring" for more information.

As I open future Norwich electronic newsletters, I hope to see fewer notices of alumni who have died prematurely from heart disease.

(1) Cardiac scoring measures calcium deposits in your coronary arteries. Calcium deposits do not correspond directly to the percentage of narrowing of the arteries. They do correlate directly to the amount of coronary plaque, and to the risk of future coronary disease. These calcium deposits usually begin to form years before any symptoms develop. Early detection and modification of risk factors, such as smoking and cholesterol intake, can slow the progress of coronary artery disease.

Respectfully submitted, Robert E. Neilson, PhD., February 2004

What's New | 2004 News Archive

The information in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice by your healthcare professional. We recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider for proper advice, diagnosis and treatment.