Calcium-Score Screening Heart Scan

Overview

Who should get a calcium-score screening?

You should consider a calcium scan if you are between ages 40-70 and at increased risk for heart disease but do not have symptoms. People at increased risk include those with the following traits:

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Past or present smoker
  • History of high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Overweight
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Other non-traditional risk factors

If you are less than 40 years old and high cholesterol runs in your family (familial hypercholesterolemia), you might consider a calcium scan.

Note: 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

Who should not get a calcium scan?

If you have a diagnosis of coronary artery disease, symptoms that are suspicious of coronary artery disease or prior treatment for coronary artery disease, coronary calcium scan may not be for you. Talk with your healthcare provider about other types of testing to diagnose or monitor your coronary artery disease.

Test Details

How do you get a calcium-score scan?

  • Your provider (primary care or cardiologist) will order the test.
  • CT scanners use x-rays. The radiation exposure is low and no contrast dye is used. However, this procedure is not recommended if you are pregnant.

What happens during the test?

  • You will change into a hospital gown.
  • 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" non-calcified plaque.
    • If calcium is present, the computer will create a calcium score that estimates the extent of coronary artery disease.

The CT scan takes only a few minutes, but the entire procedure may take about 15 minutes.

What should I expect after the procedure?

After your calcium-score screening heart scan, you may continue all normal activities and eat as usual.

Results and Follow-Up

How do you get the results?

  • A physician reviews the results of the CT scan and shares them with your healthcare provider.
  • Your calcium score is determined. You provider will also discuss your percentile score based on age, gender and ethnicity.
  • If you have findings outside your heart, these findings will also be reported to your provider.

What does the score mean?

The calcium score can range from zero to over 400. It should be considered with other risk factor measurements (such as race, diabetes, smoking, family history, cholesterol, blood pressure) to determine your risk for future coronary artery disease.

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

Additional Details

What if you do not have healthcare provider to order this test?

If you feel that calcium screening may be right for you, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider will need to order the calcium screening heart scan so that appropriate action is taken based on the findings. Based on the results of the scan, your primary care provider may recommend a visit with a cardiologist. If non-cardiac findings are detected, appropriate referrals would be recommended.

Is the calcium-score screening heart scan covered by insurance?

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

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2021.

References

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