Calcium scoring CT scan provides wake-up call for former track and field coach

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Claud Spinks has a history of cardiac issues in his family, but the former track and field coach felt like he was on the right track for avoiding those issues himself. He exercised and ate right, so he was shocked when both his wife, who works in cardiovascular imaging, and his cardiologist Nimish Dhruva, M.D. both said it was likely he suffered from heart disease. They recommended that he have a Cardiac CT Scan to reveal his calcium score. The results shook Spinks to his core.

“My score was among the worst five percent of all males my age,” Spinks said. “The test revealed that, on the path I was on, I was going to have a heart attack within five years. I couldn’t deny it anymore.”

Spinks knew he had to make changes and he did. He started taking medicines to lower his blood pressure and the cholesterol level in his blood. He began to exercise more and eat an even healthier diet. Prior to receiving his calcium score, Spinks was bordering on being pre-diabetic. His A1C score is now considerably lower and his blood pressure has improved significantly as well. Even better, the chances of him having a heart attack over the next 10 years are now down to seven percent.

“This scan is a non-invasive way to see how much plaque build up there is in the arteries of the heart,” said Dhruva. “It is a three-minute scan with low radiation and it is a game-changer. It can really incentivize you to make those lifestyle changes you know you need to make.”

Although Spinks stepped down from coaching last spring, he will always offer guidance and advice. He highly recommends getting the scan done and finding out your calcium score.

“Once you have the information, you can make the changes. I would have been one of those guys who fell over from a heart attack and never had a symptom,” Spinks said, adding that the knowledge motivated him to get started and stay on the right path. “The desire not to die is a better motivator than the ability to fit into a pair of pants.”

Spinks said he is benefitting from the changes he made to his lifestyle. The medicines he takes have low side effects, if any, and by cutting out sugar and simple carbohydrates he lost 20 pounds. He has put on muscle and continues to lose fat. His goal now is to be better than he was last year and to continue improving well into the future.

“Coach Spinks has done a great job and has added 20 years to his life,” said Dhruva. “He is now fitter than ever before.”

What is Calcium Scoring?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States. In addition to changing lifestyle behaviors to reduce risk factors, the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease is early detection. One way to detect potential issues with the heart is by using Cardiac CT (computed tomography) for calcium scoring.

“Cardiac CT takes pictures of your heart and determines how much plaque build-up is in your arteries, which is a direct indication of heart disease,” said cardiologist Abdul Doughan, M.D. “Calcium build-up can harden the arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart, potentially leading to a heart attack.”

Based on the amount of calcium build-up, each patient is given a calcium score. Typical scores range from zero to a high of over 400.  A “zero” calcium score is great news and indicates a reduced chance that a heart attack will occur. A score over 400 suggests more than a 90 percent chance that plaque is blocking one of your arteries and your chance of a heart attack is high. After the CT scan, your results and score are forwarded to your physician who will use them to assess your risk of heart disease.

“Cardiac calcium scoring will help physicians determine patients’ risk for heart disease, even if they do not currently have symptoms,” said Dr. Doughan. Based on your calcium score, your doctor may make recommendations for lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating better, exercising more, and sometimes starting cholesterol-lowering therapy. “Early detection can make an enormous difference in treating heart disease.”

The American Heart Association states that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are preventable. The first step in prevention is knowing your risks.

To learn more about cardiac CT scans or calcium scoring, visit piedmont.org/heart.