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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Check Up 13: Heart scans critical for some, not recommended for all

A heart scan takes less than five minutes. The images created reveal hardened plaque, calcium, in the heart.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - “I didn't have any symptoms. No problems, not heart problems whatsoever,” said Chuck Brobst.

Brobst, from Westfield, represents what doctors say is key: Someone with no symptoms of heart disease but with a significant risk factor.

In Brobst’s case, family history.

“My dad died at 54 of a heart attack,” Brobst said.

A heart scan takes less than five minutes. The images created reveal hardened plaque, calcium, in the heart.

Each deposit is quantified to create a calcium score which correlates with risk.

“The higher the score, the higher the risk for heart attack stroke or some kind of cardiovascular event, so the outcome data is quick, strong,” said Dr. Michael Walls.

Chuck's score was 2100. Doctors say a lot of these people “just drop dead.” They are perfectly well, like Brobst, then they have a cardiac arrest.

Chuck's had triple bypass surgery. His case is extreme.

More routine is a case like Dale Burkhardt’s. He also symptom-free but with multiple risks for heart disease like high blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and family history.

He signed up for the scan for peace of mind but learns he has a moderate level of plaque. Intervention, like medication and lifestyle changes are in order.

“I'm very surprised,” Burkhardt said. “I was wishing it was better than this, frankly, but I think the reality is very necessary.”

The scan is not recommended for patients like Jill Mabrey. She had multiple heart symptoms: fatigue, exhaustion and shortness of breath. Patients with symptoms should skip the scan and see a doctor immediately.

“Her heart function was very weak, less than 10 percent being 55 to 60 percent and so she was in serious trouble,” said Dr. Elaine Moen.

Since you can sign up for the scan without a doctors order, the providers goal is to limit the exposure to low risk patients.

“If you are under the age of 40 and you have no risk factors, you don't smoke, your cholesterol is fine, you don't have bad family history, blood pressure is normal, probably no huge utility to do it,” said Dr. Walls. “(That’s) versus those people who do have risk factors and do have family history. They are going to get the most benefit from potentially doing this.”