Heart attacks are caused by build-up of what are known as plaques in the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to the heart). Over time, these plaques become calcified as the build-up increases.
Calcium scoring is a non-invasive computed tomography (CT) scan that detects the build up of calcium in the coronary arteries. This test gives an estimate of the risk of developing heart disease, having heart attacks and strokes, and dying from cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years.
Why is a calcium scoring heart CT test performed?
This test is performed to check for calcium build-up in the coronary arteries that can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and death. Calcium scoring is a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol screening or monitoring other risk factors.
Who are ideal candidates for this procedure?
- Anyone with the following risk factors can benefit from calcium scoring heart CT
family history of heart disease
- males over the age of 40 and females over the age of 50
- past or present smoker
- history of high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes
- sedentary lifestyle
- no current symptoms suggestive of blockages in the coronary arteries
Patients will need a written referral from their doctor prior to receiving the test.
Who performs the procedure?
The procedure is performed by a CT technologist. The scan is read by a radiologist.
What happens during the procedure?
You will lie on your back on the CT table and EKG electrodes will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate. The CT table will move in very small increments every few seconds and take pictures. You will be asked to hold your breath for a brief moment and hold perfectly still. You will be left alone in the room, however the technologist will watch you through a window and you will be able to speak to him or her.
How long is the procedure?
The scan itself takes approximately 30 seconds; however the entire procedure takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish.
What do my results mean?
The results from your cardiac scoring will be sent to your doctor. Your likelihood of having heart disease or a heart attack may depend on your calcium score. The lower your calcium score and percentile rank, the less likely you are to have heart disease or a heart attack compared to other men or women your age, race and gender.
Does insurance cover the cost of the test?
No, insurance does not cover the cost of this test. The test will cost approximately $125.
What precautions are there?
This test is meant for people without symptoms suggestive of heart disease, including chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath or palpitations (heart pounding or fluttering). If you are having any of the above symptoms, please call your doctor.
After a calcium scoring test, it is important to have routine follow-up appointments with your doctor as this test is not an absolute test in predicting your risk for heart attack. Your calcium score gives your doctor information on how best to treat your risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Calcium scoring CT involves a small amount of radiation to the chest. No dye is used for the test. It is not recommended that you have repeated calcium scoring CT scans, as this is a radiation-based test.