Coronary Artery Calcium Score (Heart Scan)
This CT scan detects the presence and extent of calcium deposits within the walls of the coronary arteries and thereby estimates the severity of atherosclerotic plaque. A CT calcium score scan is the best procedure currently available to detect early evidence of coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) before symptoms actually develop. The calcium score is typically performed in men over the age of 40 and women over 50 who have risk factors for developing coronary heart disease, but no symptoms. Those risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, early heart disease in a parent and/or sibling and smoking cigarettes.
After performing the short CT procedure, the computer quantifies the amount of calcified plaque present in all of the coronary arteries to calculate a total score. A calcium score of zero is considered normal. The higher the calcium score, the greater the likelihood of significant blockage and the risk for heart attack or even death. Empowered with this information, patients can adopt important lifestyle changes, such as following a heart healthy diet and exercise, and take medications as prescribed by their cardiologists to decrease their risk for heart developing coronary heart disease. In patients considered at high cardiac risk based on their calcium score results, physicians may order additional diagnostic tests to assess blood flow to the heart.
If a non-contrast calcium score scan has been ordered, the patient will have electrodes placed on their chest for monitoring heart rate and rhythm. They will then lie on a table which will move inside a donut-shaped scanner. During scanning the patient must stay perfectly still and hold their breath for the duration of the test which will take only 10-15 seconds.