Calcium Link In Clogged Arteries

For Betsy Ashton, the news on her stress test was all good.

"I thought, I am in terrific shape, I'm home free," she told CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski.

But then Ashton got the results of her cardiac calcium tests.

"I have a lot of plaque in my arteries," Ashton said.

Her doctor, Harvey Hecht says her calcium levels in her coronary arteries are extremely high and that means she is at great risk for a heart attack. Like a growing number of patients, Betsy underwent a cardiac CT scan -- a 30 second test that gives a three dimensional view of the heart.

Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque, which includes calcium, builds up on the walls of blood vessels in the heart.

And that's why Dr. Hecht believes that these scans should be just as mainstream as mammograms.

"Two thirds of heart attacks occur because plaque that is not blocking the artery develops a tear in it, a blood clot forms in that site and shuts off the artery causing a heart attack or sudden death," said Hecht.

But the medical community is divided over just how important the results of these scans can or should be. Some experts do not believe there is a clear link between heart disease and the existence of calcium in the arteries.

"People who have high levels can become significantly phobic and it's not clear that it's totally justified," said Dr. Elias Botvinick.

Dr. Elias Botvinick says there isn't enough proof that these tests should be a significant part of the prevention of heart disease.

"It may lead patients to unnecessary tests and significant costs."

Betsy Ashton is now being treated as a heart patient, watching her diet, taking medication and more tests.

"I am in training to be one hell of an old lady and if I didn't come in here I may not have made it," she said.

With a family history of heart disease, she's trying to eliminate every risk, even those that medicine hasn't agreed upon.


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