My Healthy Heart Scan

I recently completed my first (hopefully last) heart CT scan to check my calcium score and see the state of my arteries. I chose to do the Heart Scan Plus at the Debakey Heart Center in the heart (pun intended) of the Houston Medical Center. I decided to do this for a few reasons:

First, as a survivor of thyroid cancer (9 years and counting), I am kept permanently hyperthyroid to reduce the chance of recurrence. As it turns out, many symptoms of hyperthyroidism are very similar to cardiac symptoms (palpitations, sweating, racing heart, short of breath, exercise intolerance).

Second, I had a bad experience with statin medications. If you do not know, statins are the popular go-to for cholesterol control. They are everywhere and, if you haven’t been prescribed one, just wait a few minutes. Anyway, I was prescribed and tried several versions a few years ago and showed some definite signs of intolerance (I ached in most of my joints, had some memory loss, and rapidly aged). So, I quit taking them. Given the hysteria surrounding statin therapy and the way some of my doctors talked, you’d think I have begun the process of committing suicide.

Bottom line: As I quickly approach my 50th year, I just wanted to make sure that the symptoms were indeed due to hyperthyroid and not something connected to my heart (impending heart attack). I also wanted to see how much build up was collecting in my arteries and what that meant for me going forward. (Note: There are few things I like less than going to the DR. I’d rather yank my fingernails out with pliers. That said, I convinced myself that knowing is better than not knowing. If nothing is there, I will know. If something IS going on, we can react and fix it.)

So, I called and set an appointment (no referral necessary) for the Heart Scan Plus priced at $205. This is a package that covers the CT heart scan, a carotid artery ultrasound, and tests for PVD (peripheral vascular disease) by testing blood flow in your legs.

Upon arriving at the Debakey Heart Center in the Texas Medical Center, I filled out paperwork and paid my fee in preparation. Everyone was very nice. After waiting few minutes, I was greeted by a young tech who ushered me to a room for the ultrasound of my carotids and PVD test. I did not have to wear a gown. All I had to do was remove my shoes and socks. I was then provided a blanket to stay warm. This process took about 35 minutes and was marked by a little warm gel for the ultrasound paddle, blood pressure cuffs for both arms and both ankles, polite chatter from the tech and the routine of completing the tests. All in all, very easy and pleasant.

Once I was done there, I went back to the waiting room for maybe 3 minutes. Another tech came in and took me to a large bright room with what looked like a large donut standing on end. Unlike an MRI (which I did ONCE…ugh!), this “donut” is open on both ends and shallow. So, instead of feeling like you are being fed into a barrel, this is actually quite comfortable. This test took all of 5 minutes and the most uncomfortable thing that happened was being asked to hold my breath in intervals and be still so they could get clear images. Again, no big deal. I was done with all within 1 hour.

After 1 week, my results were posted to my personal online account with Houston Methodist. They were also faxed to my DR.

The results are as follows: I have no evidence of carotid artery disease and no evidence of PVD. I have a calcium score of 20. Of the 4 arteries scanned, two of them registered at -0- (which is what you want), the third was at -1-, and my last one was a whopping 19. Since 1+19= 20, that is my total score. It is funny, because once I had my score, I had no idea what it meant, so I searched online. Here is what I found:

0-10 Minimal

11-100 Mild

101-399 Moderate

400+ Severe

1000+ Very Severe

So, I am glad I did the test. At 50, I suppose I should be happy with a 20. Per the summary of my results, I have less than a 1% chance of a major cardiac event year by year. This assumes the calcium build-up remains static, of course. So, I need to stay on top of my diet and exercise. What I am especially happy about is knowing the symptoms described earlier (at least for now) are more likely hyperthyroidism from my post-cancer regimen as opposed to impending heart doom. So, I guess I can get back to trying to balance that hormone!

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