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Cardiologist Warns Against Heart CT Scans

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Heart CT Scans

A heart CT scan can give more information about what’s happening inside your heart, but it comes with substantial risks you don’t want to ignore.

What is a heart CT scan?

A heart CT scan, also called a coronary computed tomography (CT) scan, is an imaging test that uses X-rays to capture detailed pictures of your heart and can generate a three-dimensional image. Your doctor can get more information about what’s happening inside your heart, particularly with the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

What is The Most Common Reason for a Heart CT Scan?

Your doctor will usually order a heart CT scan if you’ve had typical coronary artery disease (CAD) symptoms, like chest pain or shortness of breath. 

Even if you haven’t had typical CAD symptoms, your doctor may think you have risk factors that make it more likely you could have a cardiac event, like a heart attack or stroke, and more information is warranted.

Some risk factors for CAD involve lifestyle and dietary habits that cause inflammation, including:

Your doctor may believe a heart CT scan will show whether you have CAD and how far it has progressed.

What Can Heart CT Scans Detect?

The heart CT scan can identify calcified plaque deposits that have built up under the inner lining of the arteries, called the endothelium. Plaque deposits usually result from a build-up of fat and other substances that have made their way into the endothelium and have hardened or calcified.

Once the doctor assesses all the pictures from the scan, your heart will receive an Agatston score, also called coronary artery calcium (CAC) score. The higher the score, the more you are at risk of having a heart attack. 

The CAC scores are:

ZeroNo plaque with a very low risk of a future coronary event
1-100Low risk of future coronary event
101-400Increased risk of future coronary events
>400High risk of a coronary event

Many doctors believe the heart CT scan and CAC score can identify heart problems early and help determine an appropriate medication regimen.

How is a Heart CT Scan Done and How Long Does It Take?

A heart CT scan is typically done within a hospital or clinic setting. Individuals are often asked to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing to the scan since they must change into a gown before the procedure. 

Heart CT scans are done with or without intravenous (IV) contrast (dye) to better visualize your structure. If your doctor has requested contrast, you will receive an IV before the procedure.  

Then, the technician will position you on the table, lying on your back, and place electrodes on your chest. The technician will then attach wires from an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine to the electrodes. The ECG will record the electrical activity of your heart.

The table will slowly move you through the CT scanner, and you will be asked to hold your breath for 10-20 seconds while the images are recorded. The scan itself typically takes about ten minutes, but with preparation, the appointment is usually scheduled for 30-45 minutes. 

What is The Difference in a Heart CT Scan vs. an MRI?

One primary difference between a heart CT scan and a cardiac MRI lies in the technology used to capture the images of your heart. A heart CT scan uses X-rays to produce detailed 3D images of the heart and blood vessels. 

In contrast, a cardiac MRI uses radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create detailed pictures of the heart. The cardiac MRI can diagnose heart valve problems, pericarditis, cardiac tumors, and damage from a heart attack.

A heart CT scan exposes the body to radiation, whereas an MRI does not. However, both MRIs and CT scans may use contrast dyes. MRIs often use intravenous (IV) gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) to improve heart muscle and blood flow visualization. Studies show that these contrast agents come with health risks, some of which are significant. 

What Are The Risks of Heart CT Scans?

Radiation and cancer risk are always a concern with CT scans. The scan exposes your body to the same amount of cell-damaging radiation you would receive from up to 800 X-rays.

A high CAC score will likely lead to even more diagnostic tests for heart disease, which may expose you to more radiation, and there is no guarantee they will provide clinically valuable results while continuing to put you at further risk of developing cancer.

Why We Don’t Recommend Heart CT Scans

We don’t recommend having a heart CT scan for a few reasons. First and foremost, we don’t believe exposing yourself to radiation is safe or practical when there are better ways to assess your coronary arteries and the potential or already existent CAD.

Besides the radiation, abnormal and incidental results can lead to more diagnostic, sometimes invasive, testing or prescription medications that may do more harm than good. There is also a chance you will receive a CAC score of 0. While this may seem like good news, it can lead to complacency and does not necessarily mean you are healthy. There are better, more advanced testing methods that can help you achieve a higher level of wellness.

What Are The Alternatives To Heart CT Scans?

Several viable alternatives to a heart CT scan don’t involve cell-damaging ionizing radiation, and the results can be just as accurate and informative without putting yourself at risk.

Vascular ultrasounds are safe, non-invasive diagnostic tests that can determine the extent of plaque buildup in the walls of your arteries.  A carotid intima-media thickness test (CIMT) can determine how much plaque buildup you have in the inner lining of your carotid arteries in your neck.

There are also regular carotid ultrasounds that evaluate blood flow in the carotid arteries, but a CIMT can measure the degree of plaque and inflammation in the inner lining of the artery. The CIMT can also differentiate between soft plaque (the type that can rupture and cause a heart attack or stroke) and hard plaque (more stable, calcified plaque that can become large enough to obstruct blood flow).

In addition to vascular ultrasounds, Natural Heart Doctor offers several levels of testing that can assess for CAD and guide treatment depending on the extent of your arterial disease. 

Next Steps

There is a reason why cardiovascular disease is called the “Silent Killer.” Heart disease and arterial plaque buildup don’t happen overnight, and sometimes don’t experience symptoms until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, it’s never too late to reduce your heart attack or stroke risk. Starting simple with changes to your diet, regular exercise, managing stress, and spending time in the sun is a good start. Following the Eat Well, Live Well, Think Well philosophy covers all this, and more. 

We also have several options for NHD lab testing when you want an in-depth assessment of your current health status, starting with Level One, which covers a broad range of cardiovascular and inflammatory issues and can help guide further evaluation and interventions. We also have higher levels of testing if you’ve already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and want to delve even deeper into some of the underlying causes of your current state of health.

All lab testing includes a review with a Certified Natural Heart Doctor Health Coach. The review and consultation allow you to discuss the problems that have brought you to this point in your journey and your goals for a more natural and holistic approach to cardiovascular health and well-being. 

Before exposing yourself to damaging radiation with a heart CT scan, let the NHD guide your treatment with safe, evidence-based testing to assess your risk level and help identify the extent of existing CAD.  

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About Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD, FACC

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About Dr. Jack Wolfson DO, FACC

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Dr. Jack Wolfson is a board-certified cardiologist, Amazon best-selling author, husband, father, and the nation’s #1 Natural Heart Doctor.

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Chiropractic

Our chiropractor is an expert at adjustments and holistic chiropractic care and works closely in conjunction with the other health care experts at Natural Heart Doctor.

Call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

IV Therapy

We use specially formulated natural vitamins and minerals that are injected into a vein to prevent or treat dehydration. Ideal for people in Arizona.

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Acupuncture

Stimulate your body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being with acupuncture at Natural Heart Doctor.

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Health Coaching

Our health coaches use evidence based skillful conversation, clinical interventions, and strategies to engage you actively and safely in health behavior changes.

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Cardio Tests

We use the most advanced testing in the world to assess heart health and to identify the root cause of your health issues.

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Office Visits

Schedule an office visit with one of our cardiologists, holistic physicians, chiropractor, or health coaches.

Call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’d like to receive an online second opinion from Natural Heart Doctor. What do I do next?

You can initiate a second opinion online through our website at any time. To begin, select the team member you’d like to speak with and open an account.

Click here for cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Lauren Lattanza. Get details.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Tonia Rainier. Get details.

Click here for  Natural Heart Doctor Health Coach.

Alternatively, you can email health@naturalheartdoctor.com. A member of our care team will help guide you through the process of starting a second opinion.

What is the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

The cost for most second opinions varies by team member. This fee includes information collection, a phone or video consultation, a second opinion from a Natural Heart Doctor specialist and guidance throughout the process from your personal Care Team at Natural Heart Doctor.

Cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson’s Second Opinion Fee is $1500.

Holistic Physician’s Dr. Lauren Lattanza’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Naturopathic Physician Dr. Tonia Rainier’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Note: We apply the Online Second Opinion Call fee as a credit to any future consultations with Natural Heart Doctor, should you choose them.

Will my insurance cover the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

Most likely, no. Most health plans do not cover online second opinions or consultations. You are responsible for the cost of our second opinion. Natural Heart Doctor cannot file a claim with your insurance carrier, nor can we provide a procedure (CPT) code for this service.

What is the timeline to receive an online second opinion?

We do our best to schedule your second opinion as quickly as possible. Typically, it takes 5 to 7 business days after your information has been collected to receive your phone or video online second opinion.

What information do you need in advance of our call?

Our office will send you a short questionnaire to complete and return. We DO NOT need your complete medical records.

How many questions can I ask the expert during our call?

You may ask a maximum of five questions. This is to ensure that the expert has sufficient time to devote to each question. All questions must be finalized before your online meeting.

What should I expect to receive once my second opinion is complete?

You will receive a summary of our discussion along with our second opinion. The second opinion will be in written form. After you have reviewed the second opinion, a Natural Heart Doctor clinician will follow up with you by phone to address general medical questions about the information provided in the second opinion.

What if I have follow-up questions for the expert after I have reviewed my second opinion?

If you have a clarifying question about an expert’s response to one of the questions in your second opinion, and the Natural Heart Doctor clinician is unable to address it, then you may request a follow up session for an additional fee. 

Is my medical and payment information secure?

Natural Heart Doctor is strongly committed to protecting the privacy and security of all our patients. Our website meets all federal requirements for protecting personal health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). All financial transactions are processed by Natural Heart Doctor securely using industry standard payment processing tools.

I would rather visit Natural Heart Doctor for an in-person appointment. What should I do next?

If you would prefer an in-person appointment at Natural Heart Doctor instead of an online second opinion, please call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

Can I schedule a follow up appointment with the specialist who provided my online second opinion?

Yes, we’re happy to help you on an extended basis. Our clinician can discuss options with you when presenting our second opinion summary.