ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico physician wants to raise awareness about a low-cost, non-invasive test that can reveal the tell-tale indicators of heart disease.
Dr. David Schade, chief of the University of New Mexico’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, believes that use of the coronary artery calcium scan could alert people to the presence of plaque that, left untreated, could eventually clog blood vessels, causing a heart attack.
He believes that for people who appear healthy but have certain risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, being diabetic or more than 50 years old, it would show whether they have heart disease and should begin treatment before it progresses.
Schade will be giving a free lecture about the link between diabetes and heart disease and measures to prevent this connection at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in the Simms Auditorium at Albuquerque Academy. Dr. Barry Ramo, a staff cardiologist at the New Mexico Heart Institute in Albuquerque, will be interviewing Schade at the event.
Schade said the goal of his talk is to honor National Diabetes Month – which is November – and to publicize the potential of the calcium test to prevent unnecessary heart attack deaths.
“This is a life saver,” Schade said in a recent interview.
At present, the American Heart Association does not recommend routine calcium screening for people with no symptoms of the disease or who are at low risk, saying, in a 2012 position statement, that there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that widespread screening was clinically appropriate.
Schade believes the test can help prevent emergency room visits, hospital stays and expensive surgery.
More than 600,000 people die from heart disease each year in the United States, making it the leading cause of death in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The real problem with heart disease is that often people have no warning signs until they have a heart attack,” Schade said.
Inserting a stent to unblock an artery when someone has a heart attack costs about $50,000, he said. The calcium test runs around $100 to $150 but patients have to pay out of pocket because insurance companies typically do not pay for the procedure.
The test involves taking images of the heart with a high-speed scanner called a Multidetector CT. A computer then scores the images for the amount of calcification in the coronary arteries. Calcium is present in the plaque deposits that can clog the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart. On the scan images, it shows up as areas of white in the arteries.
John DeMoss, a 63-year-old diabetic who has been treated by Schade, took the test recently. “It really opened my eyes,” he said, “It put a little scare into me. I think anyone would want to find out what their heart’s doing.”
Ramo said the Heart Institute has been performing the test for about 10 years. “It was clear to me 10 years ago that this (the calcium test) would be a game changer in the care of cardio patients,” he said in an interview. He said studies have shown that the test can pinpoint when people who have some risk factors do not have heart disease and would therefore not benefit from medications usually recommended to those at risk.