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Get a heart scan--but then don't delay taking action!

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:26pm

I just came from one of the local hospitals after having performed a heart catheterization on a patient I met earlier this week.

Jack had gotten a heart scan a year ago with a score of 246, placing him in the 76th percentile. The "event" rate with this percentile rank is around 3% per year--not very high but enough to pose risk over a long period.

Jack chose to ignore his score. After all, the pressures of work at the University, maintaining his home and yard, etc. consumed all his energies. He came to my office--now one year after his scan--and told me about the chest pressure he was getting. Initially, his chest pains occurred with extended walking. In the past week, however, Jack was experiencing chest pressure with just walking 30 feet.

This pattern of increasing symptoms is called "accelerated angina", meaning that Jack was rapidly heading towards a heart attack. So I advised a heart catheterization in near future.

Jack's catheterization showed extensive plaque including a 50% blockage in the mainstem artery and 90% in the artery to the front of the heart (left anterior descending artery). Jack is going to have a bypass operation tomorrow.

What if Jack hadn't ignored his heart scan from a year ago? Well, I'd be very confident in saying that he would not be undergoing bypass surgery tomorrow.

The lesson: Don't dilly-dally on taking action to keep your plaque from growing. While it's not an emergency, it can easily become one if you choose to ignore your scan.

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