I have tried to lead a pretty healthy life, eating well and staying active, but when my brother recently needed a quintuple bypass at age 50 it rocked me a little. I recalled that my father needed a triple bypass at 57, and although I had no previous health issues, it made me wonder. When I discovered at an employer-sponsored health fair that my blood pressure was surprisingly high, I decided to make an appointment with my primary care doctor.
She referred me to a cardiologist in the Center for Preventive Cardiology at OHSU, Dr. Michael Shapiro. After discussing my family history and recent blood pressure discovery, Dr. Shapiro scheduled me for some blood work and tests, including a coronary artery calcium score. A coronary artery calcium score, Dr. Shapiro explained, measures the amount of calcified cholesterol deposits in your arteries, which increase your risk of having a heart attack.
The results from these tests completely changed my life.
I received a 32 on my calcium score and discovered through blood work that my family history of early heart disease was due to a genetic predisposition to elevated Lipoprotein(a), an inherited type of cholesterol that can increase your risk for heart disease. Dr. Shapiro explained that an ideal calcium score would be zero, but this score was very high for women in my age group, which meant I needed to immediately begin a regimen for cholesterol management that include medication, lifestyle changes, and ongoing cardiovascular care.
I would never have thought about seeing a cardiologist for prevention of heart disease but now I am so glad that I did. Dr. Shapiro recommended testing my two daughters for elevated Lipoprotein(a) and they both showed the same genetic predisposition. At ages 17 and 20 they now have the knowledge decades earlier than I did to make sure they maintain good heart health.
Knowing what I know now, I would recommend anyone with a family history of heart disease see a cardiologist and consider a coronary artery calcium score. The test was easy, like a CT scan for the heart, and I had the results within a matter of days. The out-of-pocket cost was $75 but the information it gave me was priceless. Now I know that you have to trust your gut and protect your heart.