The Nation's Health + Heart scans

Heart scans: Cholesterol trumps heart scan?

Lela's heart scan score: 449 --very high for a 49-year old, peri-menopausal woman. Her score placed her flat in the 99th percentile, or the worst 1% of women her age.

Lela first consulted her primary care physician. Her doctor looked at the result puzzled. "Now wait a minute. Your cholesterol numbers have been great." After a pause, her doctor (a woman) declared the heart scan wrong. "Tests aren't perfect. The heart scan is simply wrong. I'm going to believe the cholesterol numbers and there's no way you have heart disease."

Is that right? Can cholesterol numbers trump your heart scan score? Can the heart scan simply be wrong?

The answer is simple: NO.

The heart scan is not wrong. The heart scan is right. What is wrong with this picture is that standard cholesterol testing commonly and frequently fails to identify people at risk for heart disease.

What if this woman smoked? That wouldn't be revealed in her cholesterol panel. Or had high blood pressure, increased inflammatory responses like C-reactive protein, had increased small LDL or lipoprotein(a), was severely deficient in vitamin D? None of that would be revealed by cholesterol numbers.

So, no, the heart scan is not wrong. The cholesterol numbers are not wrong. The doctor's interpretation of the data is wrong.

Please do not allow false reassurances offered by those who do not understand the technology steer you wrong.

This woman proved to have an entire panel of hidden causes of her coronary plaque uncovered. No surprise.

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