Health Library

Calcium Scoring

An introduction to Calcium Scoring

Calcium Scoring formally called Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) Scoring, or a Coronary Calcium Scan is a test that detects the amount of calcium found in the walls of the heart’s arteries. Most of the calcium in the human body exists in bones and teeth, keeping them healthy and strong. However, the calcium in the arteries that transmit the heart with oxygen and nutrients may cause trouble for heart health.   This is because the calcium deposits in the coronary arteries signify that there can be a buildup of plaque — a waxy material that can toughen over time and block the arteries (called atherosclerosis), inviting a heart attack or stroke.  Calcium Scoring is one way to measure someone’s risk of evolving heart disease or having a stroke or heart attack.

Why choose to have a Calcium Scoring scan

This non-invasive CT scan (Computed Tomography) of the heart computes your hazard of developing coronary artery disease (CAD) by gauging the amount of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries. Plaque or calcium accumulation in the coronary arteries can lead to heart disease or even a heart attack. Coronary calcium scoring is a better forecaster of coronary events than cholesterol screening and other risk factor assessments.

How is the Calcium Scoring test performed?

The calcium scoring test is quick (it takes just around 10-15 minutes to complete), uses a low dose of radiation, and doesn’t require contrast; a special dye injected in the vein that is required for some other imaging tests. The test often includes the usage of electrocardiogram (ECG) as well.  The heart scan utilizes a specialized X-ray technology termed multidetector-row or multi-slice computerized tomography (CT), which develops various images of plaque or calcium deposits in the blood vessels. The test gives an early look at levels of plaque or calcium.

Calcium Score test details (before/during /after)

You might be required to avoid smoking and caffeine for four hours before the test. You will be given a loose gown and asked to remove metal items like jewelry. The technologist explains the procedure and answers all the questions you may have.

During the test, you will lie flat on your back with arms positioned above your head. Three monitoring wires are put in your chest to harmonize the scan with your heart motion. You will be asked to hold still and to temporarily hold your breath. Pictures are taken as you are moved through the scanner. The technologist can always see and hear you during the process. The scan is painless and usually takes 10 minutes to complete.

Typically, no special precautions are required after having a calcium scoring test. You can drive yourself home and do your daily activities as usual.

Results and follow-up (if applicable)

A calcium score (also called Agatston score) is calculated based on the amount of plaque or calcium fund in the scan. Here is the breakdown of the results and their implications:

Zero: No plaque. Minimal risk of a heart attack.

1 – 10: Small quantity of plaque. Less than 10 percent chance of heart disease and low heart attack risk.

11-100: Some plaque. Mild chance of heart disease or heart attack.

101 – 400: Moderate quantity of plaque. Chances of already-existing heart disease and plaque might be blocking an artery. Heart attack chance is moderate to high.

Over 401: Big quantity of plaque. Over 90 percent chance of plaque blocking one of the arteries. Heart attack risk is high.

Based on the outcome, your doctor may require the following strategies as a follow-up:

  • Different medication or doses
  • Changes to diet and exercise routine
  • New weight-loss targets
  • Additional tests

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