Do You Need a Calcium Score Test?

Do You Need a Calcium Score Test?

 A calcium score test (calcium scoring) is a noninvasive, low-risk heart scan used to find out more about your risk of heart disease. Along with other tests, such as blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol screenings, calcium scoring can be an important tool for your heart health.

Calcium score tests measure the amount of calcium buildup in the walls of the coronary arteries. Calcium is an important mineral our body needs to stay healthy. However, excess calcium in the coronary arteries can be a sign of coronary artery disease — the most common type of heart disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“If CAD is detected early, you may be able to reduce your heart attack risk,” said Allen McGrew, D.O., cardiologist at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth. “If you have any risk factors for heart disease, ask your physician if you would benefit from calcium scoring.”  

Who Qualifies?

Adults with intermediate risk for CAD should consider coronary calcium screening. 

What is intermediate risk? Reginald Baptiste, M.D., FACS, cardiothoracic surgeon at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, defines it as patients with one or more of the following risk factors: 

  • Age (Men: 40–65; Women: 45–70) 
  • Current or prior tobacco usage 
  • Diabetes 
  • Family history of heart disease 
  • High blood pressure, whether treated or untreated
  • High cholesterol 

Patients who show no current symptoms of heart disease benefit the most from testing. 

“If you are experiencing symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, you should visit your physician for a more aggressive workup,” Dr. Baptiste said. “Calcium score testing is best for people who are asymptomatic and want to calculate their risk early.”

How It Works

A coronary calcium scan uses a CT scan to generate pictures inside your heart.

“The CT scan uses only a small amount of radiation, which makes it relatively safe,” Dr. Baptiste said. “For reference, the amount of radiation used is similar to what you are exposed to during an annual mammogram.”

The test takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete. No injections or dyes are used. During the test, you will lie still on your back on an exam table. The table will pass through the CT scanner, which will take multiple images of your heart. A radiologist will interpret the images and send them to your physician. Your physician will schedule a follow-up appointment after your test to review your results and explain your cardiac calcium score. 

Understanding Your Score

You will either receive a negative or positive result. A negative test result means that there is no calcium buildup within the arteries or the presence of calcium is so minimal that it cannot be seen on the scan. A positive test means calcification is present. The amount of calcium buildup is expressed as a number. 

Your provider will assign you a calcium score based on a chart. 

Here is what your calcium score means:  

  • 0: No evidence of plaque
  • 1–10: Minimal evidence of plaque 
  • 11–100: Mild evidence of plaque 
  • 101–400: Moderate evidence of plaque 
  • Over 400: Extensive evidence of plaque 

What Now?

If you receive a high score, your physician will discuss your heart disease risk and next steps for treatment. Patients may benefit from medications, such as aspirin or statins. Your provider will discuss the risks and benefits of taking medicine and find the treatment that fits with your personal health history. 

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