Report Card for Your Heart

Reporter: Shannon Samson

Welborn Clinic marketing director Ed Lahue volunteered to find out his cardiac score because he has a family history of heart disease.

The new 64-slice CT scanner uses X-ray technology to take 64 tiny pictures of the chest. Traditional scanners only take four.

Clinic Imaging supervisor Paul Luttrull says, "It's as if you had 64 CT scanners lined up in a serial line doing the acquisition."

Ed is the perfect candidate for this type of test because he doesn't have any symptoms of heart disease. Luttrull says, "Some of the tests for heart disease are very expensive and you don't want to go there unless you have a strong clinical suspicion. This particular test is non-invasive, easy, very quick. It's relatively cheap."

Computer software reconstructs the images. A radiologist can scroll through each "slice" to search for areas colored pink. Luttrull says, "That would be just an indicator that there's increased density which you would see with calcium or bone."

From there, the computer assigns a score, a number that suggests how much plaque is in the arteries that could potentially cause a blockage. Anything below 500 is considered normal. Ed is doing exceptionally well with a score of just two.  "Two sounds pretty good. If you're worried about over 500, two sounds pretty good."

And that's a pretty good indicator of his immediate future. Luttrull says, "If this test is normal, you're going to do well. You're not going to have a heart event for perhaps the next ten years or so."

But if you don't score well, you don't go straight to the OR for bypass surgery. The CT scan is only a screening test to determine whether or not a more aggressive test is needed.

Because the images are so clear, some radiologists across the country are incidentally finding lung cancer and other problems in patients seeking their cardiac score, and of course, any cancer is best caught early.

Some insurance companies are starting to reimburse for it. Otherwise, you can pay out of pocket for it. Just a few hundred dollars