Non-invasive test promises to help predict heart disease risks in patients

NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Heart disease is the number one killer in America. But it can be a silent killer.

However, there is a non-invasive test that can look into your arteries to see if heart disease is in your future.

"Both my parents passed away early from heart disease, my father at 43 and my mother at 48," says Matthew Carey of Lansdale, PA.

As Carey approached his middle years, he worried he might be headed for heart disease, too.

His weight crept up, due to too much sitting time at his job.

His cholesterol crept up, too, despite medication.

"I was always on like a statin to keep my cholesterol, kind of regulated, but if you don't eat really well, there's only so much the statin can do," says Carey.

At a workplace health fair, he was referred to Dr. Daniel Edmundowicz, chair of cardiology at Temple Health, who recommended a low-radiation CT scan called coronary calcium scoring.

"It takes about, less than five minutes to perform," says Dr. Michael Gannon, a cardiologist at Temple Health.

He adds, "It is able to tell patients specifically where and how much calcium they have in their coronary arteries."

Calcium deposits in heart arteries can be a sign of plaque buildup.

Over time, arteries can become blocked, or the plaque can rupture, both leading to heart attacks.

"A lot of people don't know they have underlying coronary artery disease until they develop a problem like a blockage, says Dr. Edmundowicz.

Carey had the added risk of his family history.

"The genetics are very powerful in this disease," notes Dr. Edmundowicz.

Carey's score was a real wake-up call.

"You don't see the damage that you're doing to your body until you see that picture," says Carey.

But with an aggressive plan, it is possible to arrest, or at least slow down, the heart disease.

Carey stepped up his activity and saw a nutritionist.

"I've changed my whole way of eating, I dropped 40 pounds," he says.

Smaller portions and lots of vegetables have been Carey's key. He says he doesn't even miss his old food vices.

His good cholesterol is up, both his bad cholesterol and triglycerides are down, and he's no longer mildly diabetic.

Some insurance plans pay for the test, as Matthew's did.

For more information on coronary artery calcium scoring at Temple Health, visit their screening site.
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