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Coronary CT Angiography (CCTA) Test Predicts Heart Attack Risk

Hospital news | Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Prairie du Chien, WI – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths each year, directly affecting approximately 600,000 Americans each year. Coronary CT Angiography technology is available at Crossing Rivers Health in Prairie du Chien that detects blockages in arteries that could lead to a future heart event, potentially preventing a heart attack. A CCTA is a non-invasive method that utilizes dyes to obtain 3D pictures of the heart and blood vessels. These high resolution images enable providers to determine potential blockages in the artery walls.

“In 2019, approximately 20% of patients that had a CCTA performed at Crossing Rivers Health showed signs of severe coronary artery disease,” explained Tim Clark, Director of Medical Imaging at Crossing Rivers Health. “Those patients were referred to a cardiologist before they experienced a major heart event, potentially saving their life.”

Rich Bannen, a Steuben resident, was one of those patients. Bannen came to Crossing Rivers Health Emergency Department after waking up with some chest discomfort, similar to heartburn, along with dizziness and nausea. After the Emergency Department staff reviewed bloodwork and an EKG results that came back negative for a heart event, the ED provider then talked to Bannen about having a CCTA.

“The results of the CCTA showed that I had blocked arteries and I ended up having six stents put in,” shared Bannen. “My left anterior descending artery, otherwise known as the widow maker, was 90% blocked and now has three stents. We wouldn’t have found that without the CCTA. If it wasn’t for the CCTA, I wouldn’t be here. It saved my life.”

“In the past, we ordered blood work and performed an EKG to determine if a patient was actively having a heart attack,” added Heidi Kirschbaum, Emergency Department Clinical Services Director at Crossing Rivers Health. “Now, if a patient is not actively having a heart attack, we may be able to perform a CCTA that can detect how much blockage may be in their arteries, if any. A cardiologist can then prescribe medications or perform procedures to prevent that patient from having a heart attack. That’s the biggest win – if we can prevent someone from having heart damage or a heart attack, we want to do that any time that we can.”

A heart attack occurs when an artery in the heart becomes blocked, stopping blood flow to a section of heart muscle. This happens most often because of artery disease, a slow and steady accumulation of fats and other substances on the inside of artery walls. Common heart attack symptoms include uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back; pain that spreads to the neck, jaw, stomach or arms; and chest discomfort with lightheadedness, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath. Some people experience several of these, others few. Symptoms may be severe or mild. Some people even have "silent" heart attacks with no warning signals at all.

“The candidates for a CCTA have a strong family history of coronary disease and patients that are low to moderate risk of disease,” added Tim Clark, Director of Medical Imaging at Crossing Rivers Health. “Patients can feel confident in our ability to perform this test and have it interpreted by a professor of cardiology who has an extensive background in CCTA interpretation. The test takes a short amount of time with a low dose of radiation and can be lifesaving. This test is not something that every hospital our size can perform. We’re very lucky to have this technology available in Prairie du Chien.”

“I think people are scared to find out,” added Kirschbaum. “I think it’s scary not to find out. If we find it early, we can help you.”

The CCTA may be suggested to patients who present to the Emergency Department with risk factors for coronary disease. Individuals can proactively talk with their primary care provider to determine if a CCTA would be appropriate for them. Primary care appointments can be made at Crossing Rivers Health Clinic locations in Prairie du Chien and Fennimore by calling 608.357.2500.