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Assessing risk – heart scans

February is American Heart Month. In January’s issue, Deb Risden shared her personal account of having experienced a heart attack in December 2020. Knowing one’s risk of a cardiac event can be a preventive life-saving measure. Penrose and St. Francis hospitals are offering a heart scan that is inexpensive and doesnít require a referral from a physician. Many seniors receive invitations in the mail to participate in life screenings that include risk assessments for a heart attack or stroke, but the heart scan is the “best measurement for detecting a problem,” said Shawna Mistretta, B.S.N. and a cardiac score nurse with Centura Health Systems, which operates Penrose and St. Francis. “Knowing one’s personal risk for heart disease is a valuable tool for prevention and early intervention,” Mistretta said.Some people are not aware there is such a thing, and thatís one reason Penrose and St. Francis are trying to educate the public about the procedure.The heart scan is just $99, if one chooses to self-pay. People can always choose to go through their insurance company, but the cost or co-pay could be higher. As mentioned, a referral is not required. Mistretta said the heart scan is a risk assessment; someone who is having chest pain or heaviness should not seek a heart scan; instead, contact the doctor or go to the emergency room. If there is a confirmed diagnosis of a heart problem, people should contact their cardiologist before scheduling a heart scan. The heart scan identifies the plaque levels in the arteries. “The heart cat scan can see calcified plaque and where the plaque is located,” Mistretta said. The scan is automatically scored for the volume and density of the plaque. There is little wait time for the results. “The CT puts images in a special program (that assesses the images), and a cardiac score nurse then meets with the patient,” she said. Unlike other screening programs, the patient knows within a short time span what the scan indicates. The nurses talk with every patient in person or by phone after the scan is completed and the results are calculated. There is no waiting for results. “It’s a good option for people – a highly reliable cat scan that gives the doctor a measurement tool,” Mistretta said. If there is a problem with the heart scan, there are cardiologists on site and the nurses can immediately consult with them to get a recommendation for the patient. “The next step is to make sure we update the primary care physician and let the patient know they need to follow up with their doctor,” she said.The heart scan can also identify other health issues like digestive problems such as a hiatal hernia, a breast or lung mass and aneurisms, Mistretta said. A nurse navigator ensures the patient is connected with the right health care provider when there is an incidental finding. According to the Penrose/St. Francis Heart Scan brochure, the heart scan is a simple procedure. Fasting is not required, the patient is placed “comfortably” on the scanner, the EKG leads are placed on the patient’s chest, and it’s painless. The whole procedure is completed in less than 15 minutes. People with risk factors like high cholesterol, a history of diabetes, a history of high blood pressure, men over 45 and women over 50 years, a past or present smoker; those with weight issues, limited exercise habits and a family history of heart attacks are good candidates for the heart scan. “Our main goal is for everyone to be aware that this test exists,” Mistretta said. “We are committed to prevention.”

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