Calcification Test Gives Accurate Glimpse of Potential Heart Problems

Heart disease kills 40 percent more people than all cancers combined - many of whom may have benefited from a little known test that can predict your heart health. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

The health of patients at risk of heart disease is often measured by a stress test.

"Somebody will run on a treadmill and we'll monitor their heart," says Dr. James Min, a cardiologist/radiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College.

But more than half of those who have heart attacks don't show symptoms of it beforehand.

"We've done a poor job as a field, informing people that the majority of people who are going to have heart attacks don't feel anything," says Dr. Min.

The coronary artery calcification test goes beyond finding your risk for heart disease - revealing instead whether your heart is diseased.

Radiologist James Min says more patients with a family history of heart disease should be screened at 40 years old, along with those 50 and older.

In a recent study of nearly 10,000 patients, Min found the exam can predict if you'll have a heart attack within the next 15 years by measuring the amount of plaque, or hardened cholesterol and fat, in the heart.

"It predicts heart disease events 10 times better than any other marker that we have," explains Dr. Min.

"The more dangerous plaque can often be 20 or 30 or 40 percent blocked and that's not going to show up in a stress test. But the calcification is going to show up and that's what shows you the risk," says Dr. Erica Jones, a cardiologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Heart disease was becoming too common among 49-year-old Jeffrey Feinman's accounting colleagues, so he decided to get his heart checked.

"I'm often in an intense situation and that does a lot of wear and tear on your body," says Feinman.

After a routine physical and blood work showing high cholesterol, Cardiologist Erica Jones had Feinman undergo a low-radiation CT scan which Min then studied for calcification.

It turns out he's plaque-free. 

"It's very comforting ‘cause you never know," notes Feinman.

What he does know is that he won't need heart medication anytime soon. But he should adjust his lifestyle for the long-term view.

"She suggested I cut back a little bit on the red meat, which is hard for me, and the red wine," says Feinman.

The calcification test is not covered by most insurance yet, and could cost between $100 and $150.

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