min read
May 15, 2024

Heart Plaque: The Silent Cause of Heart Attack

Learn how AI is transforming heart disease diagnosis.

Table of contents
About The Lanby

A primary care membership for patients who want more. Primary Care. Nutrition. Wellness. All under one roof.

join the club
Share this article

Historically, heart disease diagnosis and treatment followed a reactive approach, intervening only after symptoms appeared. Traditional diagnostic methods often missed the root cause: atherosclerosis, or heart plaque. With the introduction of AI, doctors now have new tools for a more proactive and personalized approach. These AI solutions provide simpler, faster, and more accurate evaluation and reporting of heart disease for both doctors and patients.

What is Atherosclerosis? 

Atherosclerosis, commonly known as heart plaque, occurs when substances carried by the blood, such as cholesterol, fat, and calcium, accumulate in the coronary artery walls. This buildup restricts blood flow, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis often does not cause symptoms, sometimes even at advanced stages4; this emphasizes the importance of both healthcare providers and individuals routinely assessing their risk. 

How Heart Plaque Causes Heart Attacks 

Beyond grasping atherosclerosis and your personal risk, it’s vital to understand the types and amount of plaque in your heart’s arteries. Coronary plaques are classified into three different categories: calcified, non-calcified, and low-density non-calcified.

  1. Calcified plaques are composed of mostly calcium and are the least likely to cause a plaque rupture or heart attack.
  2. Non-calcified plaques contain fibrous tissue and have some risk to the patient, but not as much as low-density non-calcified plaques2.
  3. Low-density non-calcified plaques, also referred to as high-risk or soft plaques, are made up of fat and connective (fibrous) tissues and are often the most dangerous 

The buildup of plaques can cause inflammation when white blood cells try to remove the foreign substance as part of the body’s protective response to keep itself healthy3. Low-density non-calcified plaque poses the highest danger as they are more prone to rupture. When a plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot, blocking blood flow to the heart muscle, leading to chest pain, a heart attack, or even death. Non-calcified plaques carry some risk, while calcified plaques are the most stable.

The Limitations of Testing for Heart Plaque

Traditionally, heart disease screening methods relied on basic health measurements like blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, while these metrics can offer clues, they often fall short in detecting if a person has plaque in their heart’s arteries. For example, even individuals with normal cholesterol levels can harbor atherosclerosis, while others with high cholesterol may not develop heart disease.

Coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) is a non-invasive test that offers a comprehensive view into the heart’s arteries by generating detailed 3-D renderings. With CCTA, physicians can see the presence of plaque, empowering them to assess heart attack risk more effectively. However, interpreting CCTA results demands specialized skills and may require advanced software to summarize the results and provide actionable recommendations.

Cleerly’s Personalized Approach to Measuring Atherosclerosis

Meet Cleerly, an FDA-cleared software simplifying CCTA results for doctors and patients. This AI-enabled technology analyzes CCTA scans using algorithms derived from over 40,000 patient images and multiple clinical trials. Cleerly generates detailed reports on plaque volume and composition, so that every person can understand what kinds of plaque are in their heart. Doctors can use the insights from Cleerly to help individuals find the path forward that most reduces their risk of heart attack.

Ready to take charge of your heart health? Speak with your doctor about a CCTA with Cleerly analysis and how it could improve your heart health journey. Together, you can explore new ways to protect your heart and stay healthy for the long run!

[Patient video — Cleerly Revealed What Other Tests for Coronary Artery Disease Couldn’t]

Sharon Bruno prioritized her heart health after her father had a stroke at age 55. She never had any symptoms of heart disease and all tests showed that her heart was healthy. But then she had a Cleerly analysis, which told a different story.

Read her full story here.


1. Heart Disease Facts.Center for Disease Control. Accessed March 29, 2023.

2. Low-Attenuation Noncalcified Plaque on Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography Predicts Myocardial Infarction.Circulation. March 2020.

3. Leukocyte behavior in atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and heart failure.Science. January 2013.

4. Atherosclerosis. ⇱ MedlinePlus. Accessed May 14, 2024..

Ready to get well, better?

If you're curious to learn more about The Lanby, book a free consult call and we'll chat about how The Lanby can be your personalized long term health and wellness partner.

The Lanby Editorial Team