Cholesterol, Heart Health, Meds and Coronary Calcium Report – How do they Relate?

Filed in Gather Health Essential by on September 10, 2007 0 Comments

   Because of my high cholesterol, over 300, my doctor put me on statins to reduce my cholesterol, alarmed by that and my weight, although I've lost weight since then. The medicines made me feel terrible and, even worse, I always had  abnormal liver function tests while on them. Not good! But my cholesterol scared me. 

     Knowing how I felt, my doctor decided to see how much  plaque or calcification  I had in my arteries and I got a coronary calcium report. I wanted the super duper new test touted by Dr. Oz on Oprah because it shows whether a person has both hard and soft plaque but insurance wouldn't pay the $4000 plus for that so we went with the less expensive test which my doctor said was just fine as a preliminary screening. My doctor also noted that if the test showed excessive calcification, I could get a more detailed test.

      The result shocked us both. In spite of my high cholesterol, I had essentially zero calcification – and zero is good, very good! In fact, the report noted that less than 25% of people of the same gender and age had a zero score, no matter what their cholesterol levels were.

        So, should I feel completely relaxed? Not necessarily. These tests only indicate the presence of hard plaque. I could possibly have a significant amount of soft plaque just waiting to turn to hard plaque and if I knew that I could take steps to reduce it (hard plaque is generally hard to reduce without invasive measures). The flip side is also true: If a heart scan shows your arteries are free of calcium, it doesn't necessarily mean you don't have heart disease. The plaques that build up in your arteries are initially soft and only become calcified over time. So you can still have significant plaques clogging your arteries, and the scan won't detect them. These false-negatives can give you a clean bill of health when you actually have heart disease or are at risk of developing it. Bottom line: even my low score is no guarantee that being off meds is the right choice – but I'm doing it anyway. I feel better when I'm off it. 

      My doctor agrees although I am to tale one baby aspirin a day and also she "suggested" that I have 4 glasses of red wine a week (4 ounces each), something I'm not sure I can do because I don't really drink much and also because I need to stay awake to help my children with homework. I might indulge in 1 or 2 glasses a week, however, if it will really help my heart.  While it might sound crazy to be so reluctant to have even small portions of alcohol, it tends to knock me out, make me sleepy. Besides, I figure I need every brain cell I can get, already on the forgetful side. 

      So what does the future hold? Meds or not meds? For now, I will continue to exercise and try to lose weight, watch my diet and have a coronary report yearly. If things worsen, I may go back on meds. But my mother has never had heart disease, is in her 90s and her cholesterol has been in the 400s for years. She has even had an invasive type of angiogram or angioplasty screening and it showed no plaque, either. She doesn't have the aches and pains I had from statins, doesn't have to have regular liver tests, etc. I'm hoping I've inherited her genes. 

     Feel free to add your voice and opinion; I'm eager to hear it.  



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