IF YOU HAVE EVER HAD A CT SCAN of your chest, your doctor may have incidentally detected hardening of the arteries, which is an indication of coronary artery disease. The condition is the one of the most common types of heart disease, caused by the buildup of fat and cholesterol, also known as plaque, in the arteries that supply the heart with blood.
Over time, that plaque can calcify and harden and eventually obstruct the flow of blood along the vessel. Called stenosis, this narrowing of the arteries may cause symptoms of chest pain, or it may be entirely silent. The degree of calcification can be measured with a coronary artery calcium test. This test can help your doctor assess your risk for a heart attack and determine whether statin medications are appropriate and effective for you.
Statins are a type of medication that are used to lower cholesterol. Not only do they interfere with the production of cholesterol in the body, but they can also stabilize the artery plaque, making it less dangerous and reducing your chance for a heart attack. If you are over 55 and a CT scan shows calcium in your arteries, guidelines from the American College of Cardiology recommend the use of statins. If the coronary artery calcium test shows no calcium, then statins should not be prescribed.
If you’re concerned about your risk for coronary artery disease, ask your doctor about taking statins. When combined with exercise, improved diet and tobacco cessation, statin therapy can help reduce your risk of heart attack.
VINCENT SORRELL is chair of cardiology at UK HealthCare.