(WVLT) Despite having no symptoms, more than a million Americans suffer a heart attack every year.
Now, some doctors are using a special CT scan to try to identify people who are most likely to experience a heart attack.
A CT scan uses a computer to combine multiple x-ray images that produce cross-sectional views of the body.
Now, doctors are using a special cardiac CT scan to detect the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries.
Dr. Jeff Peeke, a UT Medical Center Radiologist says, "taking images of a patients body using x-ray, like you would for a chest x-ray, except that we're using tomography to take cross-sectional images."
Dr. Peeke and staff use those images to identify people who, despite having no symptoms, are likely to suffer a heart attack in the future.
"Because the scan is graded with the patients heartbeat, we're able to look at the heart in a, you might say, frozen state to look at the coronary vessels."
Using a CT scan developed specifically to capture images of the heart, doctors are able to not only measure the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries, but also the amount.
The coronary calcium gives an indication of the extent to which the arteries are narrowed, which is critical in determining the risk of heart attack.
"People are becoming more and more interested in ways of screening for coronary artery disease since it's such a prevalent cause of death in this country"
Doctors say these state of the art methods are the most effective way to detect early problems, before symptoms develop.
And the amount of coronary calcium is now recognized as a powerful predictor of a future heart attack.
If calcium is present, the computer will create a calcium score that estimates the extent of coronary artery disease bases on the number of plaques.
The calcium score screening heart scan takes only a few minutes to perform.