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Calcium Scoring vs. Cardiac Stress Test

Consider this scenario: A healthy middle-aged male patient steps on a treadmill in a physician’s office and easily passes a cardiac stress test. While this patient has a family history of heart disease, he shows no symptoms.

Six weeks later, this same patient suffers a heart attack. In this case, the exercise stress test was not an effective screening tool.

Many of you have performed stress tests on treadmills or stationary bikes. It’s been a longstanding tool that is widely used, here and across the country. But, it’s not perfect. A calcium scoring scan at the Hospital or Tremont Imaging Center can detect plaque buildup much sooner, allowing for earlier intervention.

Limitations of the Traditional Stress Test

The major drawback of the office stress test is that it’s not useful for detecting early coronary disease before it’s clinically apparent, says Dr. Gimple, with Meritas Health Cardiology (formerly Northland Cardiology).

A stress test detects problems in patients with greater than 70 percent stenosis. That means your patient must already have severe coronary disease. With heart disease still the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. adults, physicians should opt for more effective screening tools, like the calcium scoring scan, to help detect plaque buildup before it ruptures, leading to heart attack or stroke. 

When to Order a Calcium Scoring Scan

calcium scoreDr. Gimple says he believes the calcium scoring scan is the most powerful screening tool for coronary disease available today. It is especially helpful to identify patients without typical risk factors.

“This should be a substitute for the routine exercise stress test in asymptomatic patients,” he says.

Dr. Gimple recommends the calcium scoring scan for asymptomatic patients aged 50 to 70 who: 

  • Have mildly high cholesterol and/or some hypertension
  • Have family history of coronary heart disease

Patient Benefits

Patients feel at ease because the test is noninvasive and painless. It takes 30 minutes and patients receive results before they leave. Test results are also forwarded to your office.

Some patients with no typical symptoms may be wary about undergoing a test they may view as unnecessary. It’s important to share with them that more than 20 percent of asymptomatic patients need additional follow up care after they receive their scan results.

Your office can schedule patients for a scan at either the Hospital or Tremont location by calling 816-691-5267. This $400 value test is available to your patients for $50 (self-pay). A physician referral is not required.

Stephen Gimple, MD, FACCGimple

Dr. Gimple attended medical school and completed his residency at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. He received fellowship training at the Cleveland Clinic and joined Meritas Health Cardiology in 2009.

To learn more, call 816-221-6750.