Heart Scan Curiosities #7

Here's a situation that crops up once in a while, occurring in perhaps 2% of heart scans.

The white within the circled area represents calcium, and thereby atherosclerotic plaque, situated immediately at the "mouth", or opening, of the the right coronary artery. What is somewhat unusual is that this plaque is not principally coronary, but aortic. That is, the plaque is mostly situated in the large vessel called the aorta. The three coronary arteries arise from the aorta.

In this instance, the aortic plaque involves the mouth of the right coronary artery. (In views not shown, the plaque also extends into the artery as well.) I call this a "double whammy" because the same plaque can post risk for heart attack and stroke.

Generally, aortic plaques pose risk for stroke. When aortic plaque fragments, little bits and pieces can travel upward to the brain and block an artery, thus a stroke.

In the coronaries, disrupted ("ruptured") plaques don't generally shower debris, but permit blood clot formation, resulting in heart attack.

This plaque, however, poses the theoretical risk of both heart attack and stroke because of its strategic location.

Should a plaque like this be handled any differently? I don't think so. But it does provide another reason to take atherosclerotic plaque in any artery seriously.

Comments (1) -

  • Anonymous

    11/12/2008 5:12:00 AM |

    I just had my first heart scan at Boulder, CO.  My heart scan score was zero, but my descending aorta showed as mildly calcified.

    I wonder what conditions determine whether plaque builds up in the coronary arteries versus in the aorta.  

    And I also wonder how mildly calcified would score if it was in the coronary arteries rather than in the aorta.  I know how to interpret the zero heart scan score, but I don't know how to interpret the mildly calcified aorta.  Since it is in the descending aorta, I believe it is less dangerous than the case discussed here.