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Calcium-Score Screening Heart Scan


A test used to detect calcium deposits found in atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries. State-of-the-art computerized tomography (CT) methods, such as this one, are the most sensitive approaches to detecting coronary calcification from atherosclerosis, before symptoms develop. More coronary calcium means more coronary atherosclerosis, suggesting a greater likelihood of significant narrowing somewhere in the coronary system and a higher risk of future cardiovascular events.

Your doctor uses the calcium-score screening heart scan to evaluate risk for future coronary artery disease. Those at increased risk include individuals with the following traits:

  • family or personal history of coronary artery disease
  • male over 45 years of age, female over 55 years of age
  • past or present smoker
  • history of high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure
  • overweight
  • inactive lifestyle

Because there are certain forms of coronary disease -- such as "soft plaque" atherosclerosis – that escape detection during this CT scan, it is important to remember that this test is not absolute in predicting your risk for a life-threatening event, such as a heart attack.

How to prepare:

  • When you call to schedule your appointment, the scheduler will record the necessary information about your primary physician, if you have one.
  • Prior to the test, a blood lipid analysis by our specialized laboratories is recommended. This test can be obtained on the day of your exam and requires you to fast for 12 hours prior to the exam. You may take your medications as usual with sips of water.
  • CT scanners use x-rays. For your safety, the amount of radiation exposure is kept to a minimum. Because x-rays can harm a developing fetus, however, this procedure is not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Tell your technologist and your doctor if you are:
    • pregnant
    • undergoing radiation therapy

What to expect:

  • The nurse will help you to complete a risk assessment questionnaire.
  • You will change into a hospital gown. The nurse will record your height, weight and blood pressure. He or she will draw your blood for the lipid analysis.
  • You will lie on a special scanning table.
  • The technologist will clean three small areas of your chest and place small, sticky electrode patches on these areas. Men may expect to have their chest partially shaved to help the electrodes stick. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor, which charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
  • During the scan, you will feel the table move inside a donut-shaped scanner.
  • The high-speed CT scan captures multiple images, synchronized with your heartbeat. A sophisticated computer program, guided by the cardiovascular radiologist, then analyzes the images for presence of calcification within the coronary arteries:
    • Absence of calcium is considered a "negative" exam. It does not exclude the presence of "soft" noncalcified plaque.
    • If calcium is present, the computer will create a calcium score that estimates the extent of coronary artery disease.

The calcium-score screening heart scan takes only a few minutes.

  • You may continue all normal activities and eat as usual after the test.
  • Interpretation of results:
    • The CT scan and its computer program will determine the number and density of calcified coronary plaques in the coronary arteries.
    • A calcium score is provided.
    • Your results will be examined and reviewed by a team of Cleveland Clinic cardiovascular specialists, including a cardiovascular radiologist and a preventive cardiologist.
    • The team will evaluate the calcium score, along with other risk factor measurements (risk factor evaluation, blood pressure, lipid analysis), to determine your risk for future coronary artery disease and will make recommendations regarding your lifestyle, medications or additional cardiac testing.
  • You and your primary care physician will receive the full report outlining your risk assessment and follow-up recommendations.

Please ask your doctor if you have any questions about the calcium-score screening heart scan.

Is the calcium score screening heart scan covered by insurance?

Because this CT scan is a screening examination, it is not currently covered under most insurance companies and Medicare. Therefore, the patient is responsible for all involved costs at the time of the exam.

For more information about the calcium-score screening heart scan at Cleveland Clinic or to schedule your exam, please call 800.223.2273, extension 57050.

Reviewed: 04/14

This information is about testing and procedures and may include instructions specific to Cleveland Clinic.
Please consult your physician for information pertaining to your testing.

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

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