52-year old Jerry came in for a stress test. He displayed the usual apprehension: fidgeting while he sat on the bed, examining his surroundings, asking lots of questions.
“Your doctor asked you have have a stress test?” I asked.
“All the males in my family have had heart attacks by age 56, so my doctor suggested I have a stress test,” Jerry explained.
Jerry went on to tell me that he had exercised vigorously this morning for 45 minutes without symptoms. He had, in fact, gone surfing just several weeks earlier and described how aerobically challenging it was keeping up with the 20 year olds. “But I did it!” he proudly declared.
As he neared the end of his brisk walk on the treadmill, Jerry asked, “What do you think about those heart scans?”
Jerry had asked his primary care physician the same question. His doctor had apparently told him that they were just a gimmick. “We’ll get you a real test.”
Of course, Jerry’s stress test proved entirely normal. The likelihood of an abnormal stress test with his history of vigorous exercise was <2%. I explained to Jerry that not getting heart scan would be a mistake. In fact, a heart scan was the only easily obtainable test that would uncover hidden heart disease. In truth, the stress test was a waste of time—and an unneeded exposure to radiation.
If Jerry’s heart scan score turned out to be zero, great! He was probably spared the genes from the other males in his family, and his risk of heart attack in the next decade was nearly zero.
If his heart scan turned out be 1000, then an urgent scramble to uncover the causes and correct them to create a truly effective prevention program would be crucial for his long term health. Or, perhaps his score lies somewhere in between, but Jerry would then know how far along he stood on his way to heart disease.
Don’t be a victim of the ignorance of your doctor. Despite all the attention heart scans have received, the majority of doctors remain miserably, inexcusably in the dark. I say inexcusable because CT heart scans can uncover the number one killer of Americans, the number one cause of all deaths in any primary care physician’s practices, and it’s laughably easy. How can a physician not advise patients on the value of heart scans?
If given a choice and you’re without symptoms, a heart scan is far and away the superior test.