Have a Heart-to-Heart This Month

February is American Heart Month, but more commonly, the focus is on chocolate hearts instead of the hearts inside our bodies. Your significant other might hold the key to your heart this Valentine’s Day, but take a minute to ensure your actual heart will remain healthy for many Valentine’s Days to come. 

How can you do that? The simplest way is by talking with your doctor about a heart scan.

What is a Heart Scan?

“A heart scan gives doctors a picture of the heart’s arteries,” says Ibrahim Abu Romeh, MD, cardiologist at Indiana University Health West Hospital. “A heart scan is used to detect calcium levels. The amount of calcium helps doctors determine the level of cholesterol buildup in the arteries, and that tells us if a person is at risk of having a heart attack.”

Calcium buildup in the coronary arteries is an early sign of coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up in the coronary arteries. Over time, plaque can harden or rupture, leading to serious heart conditions like chronic chest pain, heart attack, heart failure and arrhythmias.

Who Should Get a Heart Scan?

Heart scans are generally suggested by your physician based on factors that may put you at an increased risk for heart problems, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high body mass index, diabetes, smoking or a family history of aneurysm or heart disease.

“Not everyone needs a heart scan,” Dr. Abu Romeh adds. “Generally speaking, if you are under 40 years of age, active and able to exercise without limitations, your risk for having heart disease is low.”

What to Expect During a Heart Scan?

All together — checking in, registering and getting the heart scan — the process usually takes less than 45 minutes. During the test, patients are hooked up to small electrodes and scanned using a computed tomography (CT) scanner.

Once the heart scan is complete, your physician or cardiologist will recommend an appropriate plan of action to help reduce any risks you may have. Most plans include a diet and exercise program.

Heart scans are typically conducted every five to 10 years on individuals ages 40+ with known risk factors. However, anyone can request to have a heart scan. To learn more, talk with your doctor, or visit iuhealth.org/heart-scan.

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