Value of a zero heart scan score

Margaret is 73. She's a very good 73. She loves children and works full-time in a daycare. She manages her own household, goes to dinner at least once each week with one or more of her adult children. She is slender and has never been in the hospital--until she developed an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

Most people who develop atrial fibrillation do so with no immediate identifiable cause. However, Margaret has been a widow since her husband died 15 years ago of a heart attack. She was therefore especially frightened of any heart issues in her own health. Her doctor also raised the question of whether atrial fibrillation might represent the first hint of future heart attack.

So we advised a CT heart scan. Score: zero, or no detectable plaque whatsoever. This put Margaret's risk for heart attack as close to zero as humanly possible. (Nobody is truly at zero risk for heart attack for a number of reasons. One reason is that people do irrational things like take cocaine or amphetamines, or they take too much decongestant medication, all of which can trigger heart attack.)

The heart scan settled it. Margaret has the sort of atrial fibrillation which likely simply develops as a result of "wear and tear" on the heart's electrical impulse conducting system and it has nothing to do with coronary heart disease or heart attack.

As that MasterCard commercial goes: Cost of a heart scan: About $200. Peace of mind: priceless.

Comments (1) -

  • Anonymous

    4/19/2009 4:42:00 AM |

    Not entirely true. With all due respect, Dr. Berman, who you have quoted elsewhere in you blog, has stated the following....

      â€œIn symptomatic patients, a calcium score of even zero does not sufficiently rule out the possibility of having an obstructed coronary artery, which was the case here.” Berman suggests that the coronary CTA may become the test of choice in symptomatic patients when the diagnosis is unclear."
    By the way, whatever was the upshot regarding the 'low dose CT angioplasty'? Safe? Revelatory or not?..... Dave in Chicago