How a Heart CT Scan Led to My Bypass Surgery


At his regular checkup, this man’s doctor recommended he get an expensive screening test called a heart CT scan (aka EBCT). This test is not covered by insurance and is not recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Even though he was having no symptoms, he chose to go ahead pay for the test himself and he’s glad he did. He has graciously allowed me to publish his story hoping it might help others.

How a Heart CT Scan Led to My Bypass Surgery

Dear friends and relatives,

Many, many thanks for your thoughts, prayers, e-mails, cards, calls……… Your support has been wonderful for my wife and me.

I have been home a week and am progressing day-by-day. I get tired, but what the heck. We walk three times a day, and everybody says I look good.

I thought I would share my experience with everybody because I had none of the classic symptoms of a heart problem. No pain, no tingling in the fingers, no shortness of breath, no problem walking a mile, etc. Nada.

When I had my annual physical this summer, my internist suggested that I get a couple of tests: bone density, and the 64-slice heart “cat” scan (coronary CT angiogram). Medicare wouldn’t pay for the CT scan because there was no “known existing condition,” and so I popped for the $700 cost. Good thing.

At the test, the technician said that they would call my doctor and me within one or two days if the results were critical. No call, and I hoped I was clear. Two weeks later (“ten business days”), my doctor called to say that he had just gotten the results. They showed “moderate-to-severe” blockage, and he said that I needed to see a cardiologist as soon as possible.

In reviewing the results, the cardiologist said that what he does next in a situation like this is do a catheterization to inspect and measure in detail. After the catheterization, he said: “No question. This means bypass surgery. I’ll have the surgeon see you while you are in here.” At 62%, blockage was over his limit of 60% in the so-called “widow-maker” location; and it was 95%, 90%, and 74% in the three main arteries.

The surgeon said he would fit me in asap. So it was done October 1, 2008 and here we are in recovery from quadruple bypass surgery. Better each day.

No symptoms. Looking back on it, there were some signs, but no signals. I have always liked doing physical yard work, trimming our many bushes, pulling vines, etc. Years ago I would spend the morning (8-12) doing so, but in recent times it’s been more like 2-21/2 hours. I get tired sooner. And carrying heavy suitcases and boxes up and down stairs is more awkward and more of a strain. But I’m 68 years old, not 48, or even 58. I just figured that O. A. was coming along at a measured pace. (old age) Even though I’m not “old” yet, it’s a progressive thing, especially for someone like me who hates exercise programs and won’t seem 48 at 88. Well, I guess (and assume) that this had a lot to do with the hidden but increased clogging of the arteries. Oxygen flow was diminished.

I share all this because my experience may be helpful to some in evaluating their own situations. I am certainly a believer in the heart CT scan. There was a train-wreck waiting to happen, and the test may have saved my life.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Recommendations on Heart Testing

Current treatment guidelines published by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) currently recommend against testing people without symptoms for heart disease with either electrocardiograms, exercise stress tests, or cardiac CTs (the test this man had). Here’s a link to their recommendation for screening for coronary heart disease. I think this man will be happy his doctor choose not follow this guideline.

Cardiac CTs have been controversial and have not yet found universal acceptance as a screening test. Here’s a link to a Fact Sheet about cardiac CTs posted by the The North Suburban Cardiology Group that highlights some of the issues surrounding heart testing in asymptomatic people.

What’s the “Take Home” Message ?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in this country and it has been so for more than 100 years. It progresses silently over years and years and is caused by a collection of risk factors that have no symptoms.

Those risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and lack of exercise – all of which are controllable. Other risks include age greater than 50 in men and greater than 60 in women and a family history of cardiovascular disease – these risks are not controllable.

If you will aggressively control your controllable risks you can effectively reduce them and possibly prevent cardiovascular disease.

Whether you should have heart testing or not – and what type of testing is best – is something you should talk about with your health professional. The advice you receive will based on:

  • your particular health risks
  • your health history
  • your physical examination
  • routine laboratory tests
  • standards of cardiology practice in your part of the world.

As this man’s experience shows, if you are at risk (regardless of the USPSTF recommendations) heart testing may save your life.

Here are some links where you can learn more about different types of heart tests:

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

Exercise Stress Test

Nuclear Stress Test

Patient Guide to Nuclear Stress Test

Heart CT Scan (EBCT)

Do you know your risks for cardiovascular disease? Has knowing them helped you make a plan to reduce them? Do you have a story that might help others?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

Permalink  ·  

Back to the blog home page

page 1 of 1 pages