The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: The shameful "standard of care"

John's initial heart scan four years ago showed a score of 329 . His physician prescribed Zocor for a somewhat high LDL cholesterol.

One year later, John asked for another scan. His score: 385 , a 17% increase. John exercised harder and cut his fat intake.

This past fall--3 years after his last scan--John had yet another heart scan. Score: 641 , a 66% increase over the last scan, all the while on Zocor.

John sought an opinion from a reputable cardiologist. He concurred with the prescription of Zocor and advised annual stress tests. That's it.

Followers of the Track Your Plaque approach know that the expected uncorrected rate of increase in heart scan score is 30% per year. On Zocor or other cholesterol reducing statin agent, a common rate of growth is between 18-24% per year--better but not great. Plaque growth is certainly not stopped.

But that is the full extent of interest and responsibility of your cardiologist. Prescribe a statin drug, perform a stress test, and the full extent of his obligation has been fulfilled. In legal terms, your physician has met the prevailing
"standard of care". No more, no less.

In other words, the prevailing standard of care falls shamefully short of what is truly possible. For the majority of the motivated and interested, coronary plaque reversal--reduction of your heart scan score--should be the standard aimed for. It's not always achievable, but it is so vastly superior to the prescribe statin, wait for heart attack approach endorsed by most cardiologists.