Even though the computed tomography cardiac calcium scoring screening has been around for about 10 years, this low-cost heart disease assessment has become more popular with younger, healthy, well-educated individuals, said Dr. Jonathan I. Sheinberg, a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates.
CT cardiac calcium scanners are capable of detecting heart disease in individuals who have yet to feel symptoms, Sheinberg said. The non-invasive procedure, performed at area hospitals including Lakeway Regional and Westlake medical centers, involves a low dose of radiation and takes less than 10 minutes to perform. It ranges in price from $115 to $200, with costs generally not covered by insurance.
"Statistics tell us that a large chunk of people don't get a warning sign of a heart attack or death," Sheinberg said. "Heart disease is a blockage inside the wall of a blood vessel. Even though the wall dilates to accommodate blood flow, a person's artery may reach a point where it can no longer dilate and flow is obstructed," he said.
Sheinberg said that the screening has been around for a long time, but the understanding of its results has changed.
"Heart disease is a normal process of aging," Sheinberg said. "The holy grail for us is, 'How do I detect people who have early forms of blockages?'"
Sheinberg recommends the scan for men older than 40 and women older than 45. Those interested in screenings don't need a referral from their primary physician, although Sheinberg says, "[CT screening] should be a part of every primary care provider's preventative maintenance plan."
LRMC Radiology Manager Sandy Kohlhauff estimates the scan is 90 percent effective in detecting coronary plaque, and the medical center has performed about 300 scans this year.
"The hope is you'll catch heart disease before a person has a heart attack," Kohlhauff said.