Test for Cardiac Calcium Scoring

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Cardiac calcium scoring tests are recommended for patients who are considered to be at medium risk for heart disease.
Cardiac calcium scoring tests are recommended for patients who are considered to be at medium risk for heart disease. (Image: doctor desk image by dinostock from Fotolia.com)

A cardiac calcium scoring test measures the amount of calcium in the plaque buildup on coronary arteries. The test used computed tomography, or CT, a specialized type of x-ray test. The CT scan takes pictures of very narrow sections of the heart. In a healthy cardiovascular system, there should be no calcium build-up in the arteries.

Significance

Calcium cardiac scoring is not a routine test because in most cases your doctor can get an adequate sense of your heart's condition through a physical exam or other tests. Calcium cardiac scoring is advised for patients who are considered to be at medium risk for a heart attack.

Features

A radiology technologist will conduct the cardiac calcium scoring test. The radiology technologist will attach small metal discs called electrodes to your chest. Wires connect these discs to an EKG machine that measures the electrical activity of your heart on paper. You will lie on a table attached to the CT scanner for the duration of the test. You will probably be alone in the scanning room, but you will be able to speak with the radiology technologist via a two-way intercom. The test will probably take about 30 minutes. A radiologist as well as your family doctor or cardiologist will review the test results.

Scoring

A score of 0 means that there is no plaque buildup in your arteries and you have an extremely low risk of heart attack. A score of 1-10 means there is minimal plaque buildup in your arteries and your odds of having heart disease are less than 10 percent. If you score 11-100, there is some plaque present in your arteries and you will be diagnosed with mild heart disease. Your doctor may want discuss different preventative measures with you. If your score is 101-400, you will be diagnosed with heart disease. Plaque may be blocking one of your arteries and you have a moderate to high chance of a heart attack. Your doctor will probably order more tests and talk to you about treatment options. A score of over 400 means that there is a 90 percent chance plaque is blocking your arteries and you have a high risk of heart attack. Your doctor will want to take more tests and will probably start you on an aggressive treatment plan.

Considerations

It is possible to show a false-positive result on the cardiac calcium scoring test. This is especially true if you show a positive result but have a low risk of coronary artery disease based on your lifestyle and genetic risk factors. It is also possible to have a false-negative result because the CT scan can will only register hardened plaque and cannot find soft plaque buildup. Soft plaque buildup is an earlier form of heart damage and is also capable of causing a heart attack.

Warning

The cardiac calcium scoring test is not usually recommended for pregnant women. There is a slight chance that the CT scan could interfere with implanted or external medical devices including pacemakers and neurostimulators. You may be asked not to smoke, eat or consume caffeine for several hours prior to the test.

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