The Heart Test You Need…But Likely Have Never Heard Of

What is a calcium score test I hear you say?

If you live in the US, chances are you have probably heard of this as the US seem to be about 5 years ahead of Europe in terms of disease management, especially heart disease.

Cardiac computed tomography (CT for short) for Calcium Scoring uses special x-ray equipment to produce pictures of the coronary arteries to determine if they are blocked or narrowed by the buildup of plaque – an indicator for atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (CAD).

plaque

The test takes about 10 minutes, is non-invasive and completely pain-free. You work with a radiologist and they slide you into a machine similar to this.

ctscanner

The information obtained can help evaluate whether you are at increased risk for heart attack. The result of the test is expressed as a calcium score.

Calcium Score Presence of CAD
0 No evidence of CAD
1-10 Minimal evidence of CAD
11-100 Mild evidence of CAD
101-400 Moderate evidence of CAD
Over 400 Extensive evidence of CAD

In Ireland, you can expect to pay nearly €300 for this kind of test. In the US, I have seen this priced as low as $69. Go figure.

I paid €282 for this test in the Mater Private but there is a good chance this is covered, full or partially, on your health insurance. Ring your insurance provider and see if your policy has cover for procedure code 6222. Get more info on test locations here.

Thankfully, I got a score of 0 on this test which indicates a very low risk of heart disease over the next 3 – 5 years. This gives me a lot of peace of mind but it’s not a license to become a couch potato again.

Why did I get this test done?

2 reasons.

  1. My Dad suffered from angina for a lot of his life. He had 4 bypass surgeries until he passed at age 84. He did smoke for a good chunk of his life and he certainly enjoyed a few pints along the way. Regardless, there is a history here that I need to be mindful of.
  2. My best friend had a major heart attack on a football pitch a year ago, age 39. No known risk factors and seemed to live on the healthier end of the spectrum. For me, this means that the risk of a heart attack is no longer strictly a risk owned by the elderly. It can happen to us.

What is the real risk of having a heart attack or stroke in Ireland?

Very high apparently.

Heart disease is the number one killer in Irish society and is probably the least talked about. It is currently the cause of one-third of all deaths in this country and that figure is set to rise. The Irish Heart Foundation is predicting that by 2020 the rate of heart disease will increase by a whopping 40%.

Read that again.

Heart disease is the number one killer in Ireland, accounting for 1 in every 3 deaths. Heart disease in Ireland is predicted to rise by a whopping 40% by 2020.

Unless you want to be a statistic, I believe you have to take your health into your own hands.

  1. Get your cholesterol checked – know your LDL from your HDL numbers.
  2. Get a calcium score test done.
  3. Build in exercise as a daily habit.
  4. Eat more veggies and reduce or eliminate your meat and dairy consumption.
  5. The biggest one of all in my opinion – find a way to deal with your life stresses – exercise, meditate, give more and help other people, get outdoors and walk barefoot in the grass, play more, manage your debt down if this is a source of stress for you, focus on your relationships.

Personally, believe that stress is probably the biggest offender and cause of heart attacks in modern day society from working in the corporate world all of my life. The levels of stress in today’s workplaces is unprecedented.

The thing that most annoys me the most in the Irish “health” care system

I’m a proactive kind of guy. I don’t like to wait until tragedy strikes if I have even a small chance of avoiding it.

I got my cholesterol checked recently and it came back as a 6.0, which is high. I got a courtesy phone call from my GP and a leaflet left for me in reception telling me to give up smoking and start exercising. After that, it’s up to me. No follow up checks scheduled, nothing. You are on your own now boy. Until of course, you have a heart attack, then the “health” care system will step in again with surgeries and statins. No sense of preventative medicine.

I proactively sought out the calcium score test from my GP. In fact, I was the first person to ever ask him about doing one. He couldn’t explain the ranges of the results nor much else. Again, it’s up to me.

Like the US, we don’t have a “health” care system, we have a disease management system. We treat patients after the event, not before. For acute injuries – broken limbs, accidents etc. this system works very well – but for the prevention of long-term fatal illnesses like heart disease and cancers, the system fails us completely.

If you want to live a long and fruitful life, I believe that you cannot afford to outsource your health to this system – it is not designed to prevent you becoming sick. There is far more money in sick people than there is in healthy people. The cancer industry is just that, an industry.

Step 1 in improving your own health is taking full ownership of your own health and well being.

Are you ready to take this step?

Yours in health and happiness,

JP

 

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