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Innovative calcium coronary scan helps prevent heart attacks before they happen

Coronary calcium scans help doctors evaluate plaque buildup in a blood vessels, allowing a patient to take preventive action before the buildup causes serious health problems.
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?

Calcium plaque buildup in your arteries can cause heart attacks and other serious health complications. An innovative screening test can help doctors evaluate your plaque buildup and enable you to take preventive action.

The service is called a coronary calcium scan, said University of Minnesota Health Cardiologist Prabhjot Nijjar, MD. Nijjar sees patients in Maple Grove and Minneapolis. The scans are also available in Wyoming, Burnsville and Edina.

Nijjar focuses on preventing cardiac problems before they develop into complex health challenges.

The coronary calcium 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 40 and 79 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.

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. The scan is not typically covered by insurance, and costs $99 through University of Minnesota Health.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Heart Care coronary calcium scans.

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 encourages his patients to pursue a holistic, integrative approach to coronary medicine.

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.

To assist patients, University of Minnesota Health care providers offer consultations with preventive cardiologists and dietitians specializing in heart-healthy diets. Patients also have access to mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, among other options.

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.

A calcium scan can be beneficial for preventive care, Nijjar said. Patients who are surprised to find that they’re at high risk may be more motivated to take charge of their own health.