The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: At what score should I have a heart cath?

This question comes up frequently: At what specific heart scan score should a heart catheterization be performed? In other words, is there a specific cut-off that automatically triggers a need for catheterization?

In my view, there is no such score. We can't say, for instance, that everybody with a score above 1000 should have a catheterization. It is true that the higher your score, the greater the likelihood of a plaque blocking flow. A score of 1000 carries an approximately 25-30% likelihood of reduced blood flow sufficient to consider a stent or bypass. This can nearly always be settled with a stress test. Recall that, despite their pitfalls for uncovering hidden heart disease in the first place, stress tests are useful as gauges of coronary blood flow.

But even a score of 1000 carries a 70-75% likelihood that a procedure will not be necesary. This is too high to justify doing heart catheterizations willy-nilly.

Unfortunately, some my colleagues will say that any heart scan score justifies a heart cath. I believe this is absolutely, unquestionably, and inexcusably wrong. More often than not, this attitude is borne out of ignorance, laziness, or a desire for profit.

Does every lump or bump justify surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy on the chance it could represent cancer? Of course not. There is indeed a time and place for these things, but judgment is involved.

In my view, no heart scan score should autmatically prompt a major heart procedure like heart catheterization in a person without symptoms.