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Calcium coronary scan helps prevent heart attacks before they happen

A calcium coronary scan can help care providers identify calcium plaque buildup in blood vessels, according to Cardiologist Prabhjot Nijjar, MD, who sees patients at University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics.
A calcium coronary scan evaluates calcium plaque build-up in blood vessels. By alerting doctors and patients to problem areas, the scan can help address potential cardiovascular issues before they become complex health challenges.

Worried about your heart health?

What if you could pinpoint the location of calcium plaque buildup in your blood vessels, the presence of which can raise your risk of a heart attack and other health complications?

An innovative service available at University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics does just that. The service is called a coronary calcium scan, said University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Prabhjot Nijjar, MD.

Nijjar, who works at the University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics, focuses on preventive heart care services. It's his job to help our patients head off cardiac problems before they develop into complex health challenges.

The calcium coronary scan, Nijjar said, is especially helpful for people at moderate risk of heart disease: “The classic example is somebody who’s healthy, middle-aged and has family history of heart disease. If a significant amount of calcium shows up on the scan, it can help us determine whether we start them on a treatment program.”

An individual should consider the scan if he or she is between the ages of 49 and 70 and meets two or more of the following risk factors:

  • You smoke OR you live/work with someone who smokes daily.
  • You have a cholesterol level of 200 or higher.
  • You have been told your blood pressure is high.
  • You are 20 pounds or more overweight.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You have a family history of coronary artery disease.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Heart Care services.

Coronary calcium scans use computed tomography (CT). Recent advances have reduced the amount of radiation emitted to a minimal amount that poses no risk to the patient. The scan itself only takes a few moments, Nijjar said.

Nijjar’s efforts to prevent heart disease are by no means limited to technology. Because lifestyle choices—including regular exercise, healthy nutrition and no smoking—can all play a critical role in heart health, he’s long pursued a holistic, integrative approach to coronary medicine.

University of Minnesota Health providers also offer consultations with a preventive cardiologist, consultations with dietitians specializing in heart-healthy diets and mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, among other options.

To make an appointment with a cardiologist at University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics, call 763-898-1080.

High levels of chronic stress can also raise the risk of a heart attack. Because stress can be more difficult to manage than diet and exercise, Nijjar is currently conducting research into the effects of mindfulness meditation on maintaining heart health, and on recovery for those already suffering coronary disease.

Nijjar is also researching the genetic links that predispose some people to heart disease. A native of India, Nijjar cites research that shows south Asians may be predisposed to heart problems, regardless of their lifestyle.

Still, the calcium scan is beneficial, Nijjar says. Patients who are surprised to find that they’re at high risk may be more motivated to take charge of their own health.