Eight-second heart test could save lives

It just takes a few minutes to screen for osteoporosis with a DEXA scan, and a few seconds to screen for breast cancer with a mammogram.

But, what if such a simple test could also predict your risk for a heart attack?

There is, and KRCG's Teresa Snow had the test to explains how it works.

Like many people who have this test, I do not have all the risk factors for heart disease but have a family history of it.

The CT scanner at Advanced Radiology looks at the build-up of calcified plaque in coronary arteries.

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and calcium," says radiologist Alan Hillard. "So we see one of those three elements. It's a very good predictor statistically, of heart disease."

After my heart rate slowed to around 80, the scan started. I had to hold my breath for a few seconds to make sure I was in the right position, then hold it again for the test.

It took just 8 seconds for the machine to take dozens of painless pictures of my heart.

With today's technology you don't have to wait hours for film to be developed. The pictures will go straight to the computer then off to the radiologist to be interpreted. Everyone who gets the cardiac calcium score, leaves with their numbers in hand.

The pictures will show bright spots where there is calcium. Steven Regier felt great but had high cholesterol when he had the scan.

"It started the ball rolling that basically kept me alive," believes Regier. "If I wouldn't have had that done, there's a good chance I wouldn't be alive right now." His high score lead to more tests and six bypasses.

Dr. Wendell Williams of the Jefferson CIty Medical Group says the scan is a good convincer for people who have risk factors for heart disease, but feel too good to make lifestyle changes.

"They can see something concrete where calcium is building up in their coronary arteries, and they know that and they can hold that in their hand. Then they're much more receptive to making life style changes, whether it be diet, regular exercise, weight loss, stopping smoking or medication," says Williams.

Others need reassurance that they are at low risk for a heart attack.

"Because sometimes there's the psychology of, 'Gee I just gotta know'," says Hillard.

The calcium scoring goes from zero to 1000, anything above 400 is cause for concern

For me the test offered peace of mind, when I found my score is zero.

That is an almost 100 percent predictor that I will not have heart disease in the next 3-5 years.

The debate continues in the medical field over whether it's prudent to use the CT scan on everyone as a screening test, like a mammogram.