Many people know the symptoms of a heart attack and are somewhat familiar with the lifestyle choices that can lead to one.

That can make it especially disconcerting when someone who appears fit and healthy has a heart attack.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to know, regardless of how healthy you eat or how often you exercise, whether you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke?

A heart scan can give you a better picture of your heart health. The scan helps identify early buildup of calcium in the coronary arteries (the most common cause of heart disease) before you have symptoms.

A heart scan is a CT scan of the chest. The simple, painless and potentially lifesaving procedure takes about 15 minutes and produces high-resolution images of your heart.

Heart scans are recommended for men over the age of 40 and women over the age of 45 with one or more of the following risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of heart disease

What exactly is involved in a heart scan?

There isn’t much preparation required. Because caffeine can increase the heart rate, people are asked to avoid beverages or foods that contain caffeine for four hours before the scan.

The CT scan itself takes less than five minutes. After the scan, people can choose to meet with a registered nurse to review preliminary results of the scan. Patients receive preliminary numbers and, if requested, a blood draw to check cholesterol and glucose levels.

For many, a heart scan serves as a tool to address early warning signs of heart disease. If early signs are present, adopting lifestyle changes such as a heart-healthy diet, exercising and quitting smoking can make a difference.

The scan also helps identify people who may need medication to address high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Other patients may find additional medical procedures are needed.

The result of the test is given as a number called a score, which reflects the extent of calcium in the arteries. Some patients with higher scores may find they need medical interventions, such as stents, to address plaque buildup or blockage of the arteries.

It’s important to discuss individual heart scan results with a primary care physician to determine next steps.

Wondering if you should get a heart scan? Ask your Endeavor Health Medical Group physician or other healthcare professional what heart screenings are appropriate for you. 

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