Cardiac Calcium Scoring

May 10, 2011


Mercy cardiologist Dr. Larry Weathers was

the first physician in Northwest Arkansas to

eceive Level 3 credentials – a verification of

Cardiac CT training through the Society of

Cardiovascular Computed Tomography.  He runs

the SHAPE program at Mercy. He is committed

to helping people discover heart disease

before it’s too late.  For more information

call Mercy Heart and Vascular Center at

(479) 338-4457

When 63-year old Sue Gifford went to her annual physical, she never imagined she had heart disease.  Luckily, her doctor spotted a couple of risk factors. She had pre-diabetes and her mother had a heart episode once. Sue’s doctor suggested she may want to see about getting a calcium scoring screening.

The screening is a procedure involving the use of the 64-slice CT to determine the level of calcium in the coronary artery. It’s painless and takes just about five minutes.  If calcium is detected in the coronary artery, preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of a heart attack. The test is recommended for men age 45 and up and women age 55 and up who may have risk factors for heart disease but don’t have symptoms

Mercy of Northwest Arkansas has now earned accreditation as a Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication (SHAPE) center of excellence. SHAPE is an effort to reduce heart attacks and sudden cardiac death through the use of coronary calcium scoring. Mercy offers these screening tests by appointment for $50.

Sue had the screening done and was shocked when her calcium score came back at 1600. A score above 400 means there is more than a 90% chance that plaque is blocking your arteries. A score higher than 1,000 means you have a 25% chance of having a heart attack within a year without intervention.

Within days, Sue was in the cath lab. Sure enough, two of her arteries were 90%   blocked, one 60% blocked and one 50% blocked. Three days later, she was in the operating room having a quadruple bypass.

“Looking back, the only symptom I can even identify is that I got tired more easily than usual,” says Gifford. “I never considered it could be due to heart disease. I feel lucky this screening detected the coronary blockage before I had a heart attack and while I was still well enough to recover quickly.”

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading killer in America today. Over 500,000 people will die this year from heart attacks. For 52% of these people, a heart attack will be their first symptom. 

“A calcium scoring test isn’t for people who have known heart disease,” said Mercy cardiologist Larry Weathers, MD. “It’s a test to determine a person’s risk factor for a cardiac event for those who have no symptoms.”

Dr. Weathers says any score above zero on the test means the chance for a cardiac event is increased. A low score may indicate that lifestyle changes need to be made, while a score of 400 is high enough to order a stress test. A score of 1,000 or more means there is most likely some serious blockage and a stress test or heart catheter procedure may be recommended.

Patients who may want to consider a cardiac calcium scoring include men over 45 and women over 55 with additional risk factors for heart disease like obesity, smoking, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a sedentary lifestyle.

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