ATHEROSCLEROSIS: CAN IT BE REVERSED?
Over time, material can build up in your arteries. This “plaque” can be composed of various substances that circulate in your blood, including calcium, fat, and cholesterol. Plaque buildup can start at an early age and is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle risk factors.
When this buildup causes blood vessels to become narrow, stiff, or blocked, it’s called hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. This process can have serious health implications, especially when it affects the coronary arteries which deliver blood to the heart.
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of coronary artery disease (CAD). If the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle is impeded as a result of CAD, this can lead to heart failure and possibly a heart attack. Plaque buildup within arteries in other areas of the body can lead to stroke, peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysms, and renal artery disease.
While a way to reverse atherosclerosis completely has not yet been found, medication and lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health effects. It’s also important to be aware of your risk factors.
Patients who are at high risk of heart disease, due to a family history of disease or personal risk factors, might benefit from coronary computed tomography (CT) angiography screening. These tests are often performed at the lowest possible radiation dose and can identify disease while it’s still treatable.
HOW IS ATHEROSCLEROSIS DIAGNOSED?
Atherosclerosis may not cause symptoms, but early warning signs could include chest pain, fatigue, and dizziness. CAD is a common cause of chest pain.
When investigating for CAD, medical imaging can assess the heart function, electrical changes, or blood flow (echocardiogram, exercise stress testing, myocardial perfusion imaging). A coronary computed tomography (CT) angiography may also be appropriate.
CT angiography can be used to non-invasively examine the coronary arteries. Using a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce comprehensive, detailed images, this exam can detect both calcified (hard) plaques and noncalcified (soft) plaques. Patients with family histories of heart disease may be at risk for developing atherosclerotic plaque buildup, blocking or narrowing arteries. On CT, these can be identified even before symptoms of chest pain develop.
HOW DO I GET CT IMAGING?
At Mayfair, we offer private CT angiography services that can be diagnostic or screening. Diagnostic CT exams are performed when you have symptoms, to identify a cause, or if your doctor has discovered an abnormality. CT screening exams, on the other hand, help detect diseases before you have symptoms, while they can still be successfully treated.
CT angiography is available as a private pay exam, not covered by Alberta Health Care, at our Mayfair Place location. It can be purchased on its own or as part of a Health Assessment package, which provides a discount on multiple imaging exams when purchased together.
Your health spending account or group medical insurance plan may cover the cost of a private CT that is prescribed by a qualified health care practitioner. You will need to check with your plan administrator for coverage details.
Whether public or private, medical imaging must be requested by a health care practitioner who will provide a requisition. A patient’s medical and family history, risk factors, and type and duration of symptoms, all affect a referring physician’s decision on which type of imaging is appropriate.
When we receive your requisition Mayfair Diagnostics will schedule your exam and provide you with detailed information to prepare for it. Once your exam is completed, your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor.
ARE THESE EXAMS SAFE?
A CT scanner uses X-rays that move 360 degrees around the body to create a CT scan which can demonstrate different levels of tissue density. This data is transmitted to a computer, which builds a cross-sectional picture of the area of the body being scanned. CT scans can be performed on any part of the body.
Exposure to radiation in a CT scan is higher than that of standard X-rays, although the associated risk is still small. For example, the radiation exposure from one low-dose CT scan of the chest is a similar amount of radiation as every person receives from the earth's natural background radiation over three months or during a few long-haul flights.
At Mayfair, we strive to ensure the lowest possible dose for your CT study without compromising quality, and usually the benefit of detecting serious illness early outweighs the increased risk from radiation exposure.
Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are sub-specialty trained, which guarantees an expert opinion of your imaging. Mayfair Diagnostics offers CT imaging at our Mayfair Place location. For more information, please visit our services page.
Villines, T. C. (2018) “Coronary CTA Should Be the Initial Test in Most Patients With Stable Chest Pain: PRO.” American College of Cardiology. Accessed April 12, 2021.