Heart disease involves the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, which can lead to life-threatening coronary events like angina, heart attack or stroke. One of the most common symptoms of heart disease is atherosclerosis, a medical condition in which cholesterol builds up and forms plaque within the blood vessels – decreasing blood flow to the heart and other vital organs.
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The most common symptoms of plaque buildup can include chest pain, numbness or weakness in the extremities. However, many of these can be mistaken for common ailments like indigestion or exhaustion. In this blog, we’ll share how you can track plaque buildup, treat and even reverse heart disease altogether.
The first step of developing a plan of attack is to visit your family doctor and have them perform a physical exam. During this appointment, they’ll check your pulse for abnormalities, listen to your arteries using a stethoscope and check your blood pressure. These findings will indicate the presence of plaque. However, further testing will be needed to determine the level of buildup and the source(s) causing it.
From there, your doctor may suggest a blood test to check your cholesterol and sugar levels. You’ll be instructed not to eat for at least eight hours prior to the appointment. The doctor will draw blood to evaluate your total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL) levels. A total cholesterol greater than 200 milligrams can be indicative of plaque buildup. High sugar levels can increase this risk of formation.
For more information on cholesterol, be sure to check out our blog, “HDL vs. LDL: What You Need to Know About Cholesterol.”
Heart CT Scan
This is where your journey diverges. A non-invasive heart scan is a great way to determine the level of plaque buildup in your arteries as well as calcified plaque (which is an indicator of coronary artery disease (CAD).
Our GE Revolution CT Scanner picks up the beginnings of calcification, using state-of-the-art technology that eliminates motion blur and provides three-dimensional imaging of the heart and coronary arteries.
A heart scan allows us to non-invasively assess the three major arteries carrying blood to the heart. When plaque, hard or soft, reaches a critical threshold, it can cut off oxygen to the heart – manifesting itself as chest pain or potentially a heart attack.
We recently heard from a patient who had visited our facility back in September. Here's what she had to say about the result of her heart scan:
"On September 11, 2018, I had a body scan at your facility. The results of that scan made a life changing impact on me. Your scan revealed I had extensive plaque burden in my heart.
I checked into the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital on September 12 at the urging of my daughter. On September 13, a stress test revealed I had a 95% blockage of the left anterior descending artery. (Your body scan September 11th had revealed the same.)
The attending physician, speaking to two nurses in two room as well as myself, stated the report was "the worst report he had seen all year." Your heart scan was the reason I was in the hospital for treatment. I believe your scan saved my life, and I'll be ever grateful I took that test."
- Joyce Saunders, Tulsa Oklahoma
With our heart scan, we can detect and measure the size and density of calcified plaque. Then, our GE Revolution Scanner presents a calcium score. The higher the amount of underlying CAD, the greater the risk the patient has of experiencing a cardiac event.
With the information gathered from this heart scan, you and your doctor are able to design an individualized plan of action. Not only does early detection allow you to attack heart disease quicker, but could also save you thousands of dollars in follow-up testing.
If you don’t pursue a heart scan, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist to obtain a Doppler ultrasound, an ankle-brachial index or an electrocardiogram (ECG). The ultrasound uses a special probe to measure the blockage and speed of blood flow.
In an ankle-brachial index, the doctor will take your blood pressure in your ankle and arm to determine if plaque is present in your legs and feet. And, an ECG allows them to detect any abnormal rhythms in your heart (and any potential blockages).
While each of these tests is important in identifying levels of plaque buildup, a great deal of this information can be found in our non-invasive heart scans.
From there, you’d be referred on to a radiologist to obtain an angiogram and computerized tomography scan (CT). An angiogram involves injecting dye into your arteries prior to an X-ray to visualize whether any plaque exists. From there, a CT scan will be used to take images of your arteries.
A Proactive Approach to Heart Health
We don’t know about you, but these trips to the cardiologist and radiologist don’t exactly sound like a walk in the park. While each has a time and place, our non-invasive heart scans can help you detect and measure calcification early on. The scan itself takes as little as 10 minutes and uses high-speed imaging to capture the smallest abnormalities before they become major concerns.
For more tips on preventing heart disease or to schedule a scan with us today, we invite you to reach out to us at (918) 879-6161.
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