What Is a Coronary Calcium Scan?
A coronary calcium scan is a test that can help show whether you have coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD, a fatty material called plaque (plak) narrows your coronary (heart) arteries and limits blood flow to your heart. CAD is the most common type of heart disease in both men and women. It can lead to angina, heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmia.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-ol), calcium, and other substances found in the blood. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-O-sis)
Coronary calcium scanning looks for specks of calcium (called calcifications) in the walls of the coronary arteries. Calcifications are an early sign of heart disease. The test can show, before other signs and symptoms occur, whether you’re at increased risk for a heart attack or other heart problems.
A coronary calcium scan is most useful for people who are at moderate risk for a heart attack. You or your doctor can calculate your 10-year risk using the Risk Assessment Tool from the National Cholesterol Education Program. People at moderate risk have a 10 to 20 percent chance of having a heart attack within the next 10 years. The coronary calcium scan may help doctors decide who within this group needs treatment.
Two machines can show calcium in the coronary arteries—electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) and multidetector computed tomography (MDCT). Both use an x-ray machine to make detailed pictures of your heart. Doctors study the pictures to see whether you’re at risk for heart problems in thenext 2 to 10 years.
A coronary calcium scan is simple and easy for the patient, who lies quietly in the scanner machine for about 10 minutes. Pictures of the heart are taken that show whether the coronary arteries have calcifications.
Coronary Calcium Scan
Figure A shows the position of the heart in the body and the location and angle of the coronary calcium scan image. Figure B is the coronary calcium scan image showing calcification in a coronary artery.