The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: Fortune teller

Whenever your doctor uses your cholesterol values--total, LDL, HDL, triglycerides--to judge your heart disease risk, he/she is trying to act as your fortune teller.

In some states, fortune telling is illegal, a misdemeanor. The New York State lawbooks say:

A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which he directly or indirectly solicits or receives, he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses; except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the aforedescribed conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement.
(Source : Wikipedia)

Rather than occult powers, your physician claims to use "medical judgement" to tell your fortune. Except for that distinction, it might be construed as a misdemeanor.


Let's take three typical examples:

58-year old Laura has a high LDL of 195 mg/dl. Her HDL is 52 mg/dl, triglycerides 197 mg/dl. Does she have heart disease?

51-year old Jonathan has an LDL of 174 mg/dl, HDL 34 mg/dl, triglycerides 156 mg/dl. Does Jonathan have heart disease?

71-year old Marian has an LDL cholesterol of 135 mg/dl, HDL 84 mg/dl, triglycerides of 67 mg/dl.

None of the three have symptoms. They all feel well. Nobody is taking a statin cholesterol drug or other agent that would modify the numbers. Jonathan is around 30 lbs overweight. Nobody has an impressive family history of heart disease.

Can you tell who has heart disease and who doesn't? If you can, you're smarter than I am, because I certainly can't tell. But your doctor tries to divine your future by looking at these numbers.

Do they know something that we don't know? No. It's a crude odds game, a guessing game. A guessing game that frequently comes up on the losing end.

These are three real people. Laura, despite her high LDL, has no identifiable coronary heart disease. Jonathan has advanced coronary disease. These were his numbers just prior to his stent. Marian has a moderate quantity revealed by a CT heart scan score of 419.

Don't even try predicting your future from your cholesterol numbers--it simply can't be done. Every day, I see patients and physicians beating their heads over this dilemma. Telling your fortune using pretended occult powers is illegal. Telling your fortune using cholesterol numbers should be, too.

If you want to know if you have coronary plaque, that's the role of the CT heart scan. Plain and simple.