5 Things to Know About Cardiac Calcium Scoring - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on December 02, 2015

5 Things to Know About Cardiac Calcium Scoring

5 Things to Know About Cardiac Calcium Scoring

A Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring can help
determine your risk of coronary artery disease
or heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. While “heart disease” is a broad term used for a wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels, one particularly common and dangerous condition is coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease or cardiovascular diseases.

Coronary artery disease is a condition in which plaque consisting of calcium, fat, cholesterol and other substances in the blood build up in the coronary arteries, which supply your heart with oxygen-rich blood. This plaque build-up, called atherosclerosis, can grow large enough to reduce or completely block blood flow through an artery. If a plaque ever ruptures, it can cause a blood clot to form that can block an artery or travel somewhere else in the body and cause a blockage there.

When a blockage occurs in a blood vessel that feeds your heart with oxygen-rich blood, it can cause a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

There is a test, though, that can screen for these dangerous plaque buildups that can help determine your risk of coronary artery disease or heart attack – it’s called Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring. Here’s what you need to know about the test.

1. It determines if coronary artery disease is present and to what extent

The test uses a special X-ray called computer tomography (CT) to check for the buildup of calcium in plaque on the walls of the arteries of the heart. It checks for heart disease in an early stage and to determine how severe it is.

A CT scan produces images of your internal organs that are more detailed than those produced by conventional X-rays. With Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring, calcium deposits will show up as bright white spots on the scan. The more coronary calcium on the scan means there’s more coronary atherosclerosis, which means there’s a greater chance of significant narrowing in the coronary system and, thus, a higher risk of cardiovascular events in the future.

2. The scan is combined with other factors for your score

The CT scan to detect calcium in your arteries is only part of this test. The amount of calcium in plaques is taken into consideration and, when combined with other health information such as family history, your health history, personal risk factors, and more, is used to calculate a score to determine your risk of coronary artery disease or heart attack.

3. It’s noninvasive

And it only takes a few seconds. You’ll lie on a table with a couple electrodes attached to your chest – they’re just small, sticky discs. The table will slide into the CT scanner to create the images of your heart and arteries. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds so technicians can get clear images of your heart. After a few minutes, your doctor or technician will have a score to help estimate your heart attack risk.

4. The results are described using a number system

A negative cardiac CT score, or a calcium score of 0, shows no calcification with your coronary arteries. That means your risk of a heart attack within the next two to five years is very low. A positive score means that coronary artery disease is present, even if there are no symptoms present yet. The amount of calcification found in the scans helps determine the chances of a heart attack in the future.

5. It’s not a treatment, but it helps determine one

Like screenings for other serious heart conditions, Cardiac CT Calcium Scoring does not serve as a treatment for coronary artery disease. But the score from the test helps your healthcare providers determine what measures you should take to lower your risk of a cardiac event in the future, including changes in diet, physical activity, other lifestyle choices and preventive medicine.

eNewsletter Signup

Our eNewsletters from Crozer-Keystone Health System help keep you up-to-date on your health and well being. View recent editions or sign up to receive our free eNewsletters.