The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: Are you the exception?

Healthcare

I read about 40 heart scans this morning. In the stack was a 41-year old man with a heart scan score of 841.

That's terribly high for anyone, let alone a 41-year old person. He's lucky to find out about this before catastrophe strikes.

People like this worry me. In general, we advise men to consider a heart scan age 40 and older; women 50 and older. If there's anything exceptional about your family history or your own history, then you might notch these numbers down another 5-10 years. For instance, if your Dad had a heart attack at age 43, you might consider a scan at age 35. Or, if you've had diabetes for several years and you're a 42-year old woman, you might think about a scan. (Men tend to develop measurable plaque by heart scans 10 years before women.)

There are no hard and fast rules. It's unusual for a male to have a score >0 before age 40. Likewise, it's very uncommon for a woman to have a score >0 before age 50. But there are occasional exceptions--but they can be very important exceptions.

Our 41-year old man with the score of 841, for instance, probably had a high score since his mid-30s. I've seen several women without any obvious risk factors with scores in the several hundred range in their early 40s.

My rule: When in doubt, opt for safety. Every day, I still read about people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s dying of heart attacks. It shouldn't happen.

When in doubt, get the heart scan. The most you'll lose is the cost of the scan and a modest exposure to radiation. If your score is zero, you know you're safe for the next 5 or more years. But if you have an exceptional score at a young age, take preventive action.