NEW YORK (PIX11) — Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans, affecting 14 million people.

The recent death by cardiac arrest of Lisa Marie Presley and the collapse of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin once again highlighted the importance of paying attention to the health of your heart. Doctors claim early detection of heart disease could save your life. Many hospitals offer procedures that can diagnose whether life-threatening plaques are forming in your heart.

Regular medical checkups are helpful for early detection of health problems, but to truly understand what’s going on in your heart, cardiologists suggest the best way to determine if the organ is in jeopardy of disease is to undergo a C.T. calcium scoring scan. Cardiac calcium scans like the one PIX11 News saw at Hackensack-Meredian-Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey, takes only 10 minutes for an electron beam to detect and measure the amount of calcium in the heart arteries.

“The low radiation CAT scan shows slices through the body, through the heart and can see whether there’s abnormal calcification,” explained Dr. Aaron Stein, the hospital’s chief medical officer and cardiologist. “Coronary calcium scanning tells you whether or not you are at risk of having a blocked artery.”

Dr. Stein pointed to the results of one scan which showed an image of a healthy heart of a 59-year-old patient and declared, “This is a healthy heart. The calcium score here is zero. This person is at low risk for the next ten years.”  He then pointed to the scan of a 76-year-old patient and noted, “This patient has significant coronary artery disease and a calcium score of over 1,000. This patient represents a high risk of having a coronary event in the next 10 years.”

The heart is a vital organ that you can’t survive without. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease claims a life every 34 seconds in the United States.  With such a mortality rate, doctors say it is important to be aware of the early warning signs of heart disease. They are chest pain, a tightness, pressure or aching beneath the breastbone, shortness of breath with or without exertion, extreme fatigue, welling over parts of the body and a tingling sensation.

Women are said to be at high risk. According to medical studies, one in three women will develop heart disease. It kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. But doctors claim most women don’t recognize that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat.

“Sometimes you need a test to convince patients to go on to further testing or take certain medications. In that case, the calcium test is very valuable,” Dr. Stein said.

But the scan may not benefit everyone, including people who have already been identified as having high-risk factors such as elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

The CT scans are painless, outpatient procedures for which many hospitals charge nominal fees. But no price is too much to pay for a test that can tell you early on whether you are at risk for coronary heart disease.