Calcium is a mineral naturally found in our blood in small concentrations, and one that is important for the health of bones, muscles, and the nervous system. Unfortunately, as it circulates through the body and heart, it's not uncommon for small deposits to collect within the arteries and heart valves.
If you've recently been recommended for, or undergone, a coronary calcium scan at a place like the ICE, Institute of Cardiovascular Excellence, you may have questions about this phenomenon and the health repercussions. Take a moment to understand the basic causes, risks, and treatment options.
Where Do Calcium Deposits Come From?
To an extent, these are a natural phenomenon that comes with advanced age: calcium within the bloodstream is slowly deposited along the arterial walls over long periods of time. This is exacerbated by thyroid disease, which can cause imbalances is the resting level of blood-borne calcium. Genetic factors play a result as well, so be aware of your familial history and get checked accordingly. That said, there are a number of controllable risky behaviors that can dramatically increase the incidence of calcium deposits.
Smoking, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure are all factors that can damage the innermost arterial wall, also called the endothelium, and lead to calcium and fats collecting within. As one might imagine, being overweight and/or leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase the incidence of these risk levels – and by extension, the risk of calcium buildup.
Are Calcium Deposits Dangerous?
Calcium buildup marks the calcification of plaque, and is an early indicator of coronary heart disease: as hardened plaque collects along the interior walls of the arteries, blood flow is constricted considerably, leading to heightened blood pressure and impaired oxygenation.
Furthermore, should the plaque rupture under pressure and enter the bloodstream, it can serve as a host to blood clots as well as hardening elsewhere in the body. It is these clots that are the most common direct cause of heart attacks.
Dealing with Calcium Deposits
If your physician has found buildup of calcium within the arteries, it's a strong warning sign, and an indicator that some lifestyle changes may be warranted. Making changes serves a twofold purpose, first by slowing down the rate of deposit accumulation and secondly by gradually reversing the effects over time.
Habitual smoking should be ceased if at all possible. Consider beginning a regular exercise regiment as well, as this promotes better blood flow and oxygenation. Patients may find vitamin supplementation to be useful, and those with heightened blood pressure should consider restricting sodium intake, (though, as always, speak with your doctor about dietary specifics).