Coronary Calcium Scan (Coronary Calcium Score)
Coronary Calcium Scan (Coronary Calcium Score)
When to test
Who should get a Coronary Calcium Scan?Your doctor will ask you to undergo a coronary calcium scan to decide whether you are at low, normal, or high risk for coronary calcification. Your doctor may recommend undergoing this test only if you have risk factors for Coronary Arterial Disease (CAD), as the test exposes you to radiation. Some of the CAD risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Cigarette smoking
- Overweight or obesity
- Physical inactivity
What is a Coronary Calcium Scan?
A coronary calcium scan is a quick, non-invasive, specialized X-ray test that provides pictures of your heart. It allows your doctor to detect the presence of plaques in the artery caused by calcium. It allows your doctor to detect the presence of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which is one of the most common culprits behind heart attacks. CAD causes the arteries to narrow or harden (calcify) due to a buildup of calcium-containing plaque. This plaque is primarily composed of fats, calcium deposits, and cholesterol, which are not good for your heart. If left untreated, the plaque can grow inside the arteries of the heart slowly over time and can eventually restrict or block the flow of blood to the muscles of the heart. The coronary calcium scan is one of the most effective tests in assessing heart attack risk. The results of the coronary calcium scan will indicate how much calcified plaque is present in your heartâs arteries. Based on the results of the scan, your doctor will decide whether you need medication or lifestyle changes.
How do you prepare for a Coronary Calcium Scan?
You will be asked to avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours before the test. For the test itself, you will have to remove all clothing above the waist and all jewelry around the neck and chest, and to wear a medical gown.
Why is a Coronary Calcium Scan performed?
A coronary calcium scan is performed to help clinicians assess the severity of the plaque formation that are caused by fat and calcium. Restriction of these vital vessels deprive them of oxygen rich nutrients needed for survival. This scan helps to see how narrow the vessel is to give appropriate treatment options.
What can you expect during a Coronary Calcium Scan?
First, the technician attaches electrodes to your chest. These connect to an EKG, which monitors your heartâs electrical activity during the exam. The X-Ray images are taken between heartbeats During the heart scan, you can expect to lie on your back on a movable table. The table slides into the tubelike CT scanner. Your head is outside the scanner the entire duration of the test. You may be given medication either by pill or injection that slows your heart to help ensure clear images. If you are nervous or anxious, you may be given medication to help you remain calm. You'll be asked to hold still and hold your breath for a few seconds while the pictures are taken. The technician will be in a room next door, but can see and talk to you the entire time. The entire procedure should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
What is the follow-up and recovery like for a Coronary Calcium Scan?
Normally, no special precautions are needed after having your appointment. You should be able to resume your daily activities and drive yourself home.
What are the potential costs for a Coronary Calcium Scan?
The cost is dependent on your insurance provider and if the procedure is covered for you through your insurance. The typical cash price for a coronary calcium scan can range from about $100 to $400.
What are the potential risks for a Coronary Calcium Scan?
Coronary calcium scans utilize X-ray technology, which require minor radiation exposure. The amount of exposure is generally considered safe.
Are there related tests to a Coronary Calcium Scan?
EKG and chest CT scans are also diagnostic procedures that can be used to identify potential heart issues. Although related, these tests do not measure coronary arteries in the same way as a coronary calcium scan does.
During the coronary calcium scan:
- Once you arrive at the center, the radiographer will ask you to take off your clothing, accessories, jewelry, etc., and wear a medical gown, to prevent any interference with the radiation.
- The radiographer will then ask you to lie on an exam table and will place electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes on your chest to monitor your heart rate.
- Then you will have to lie still on the CT scanner table, which will move slowly through a doughnut-shaped machine.
- The CT scanner will be linked to the ECG and the recorded electric pulses from your heart will tell the CT scanner exactly when to take the scans.
- The CT scanner will move in a circle around your body and X-ray beam will pass through your body for small amounts of time. It will take multiple images of your heart that will be displayed on a monitor.
- During the scan, the radiographer will give you instructions such as ‘stay still’ and ‘hold your breath for 10 to 12 seconds’. You will have to avoid talking during the test, because any movement, including shivering, can alter the results.