Calcium Score Test
What is a Calcium Score Test?
The calcium score test is a screening test that helps provide an indication of your level of risk of experiencing cardiac issues in the future.
The Coronary Artery Calcium score is a measurement of the amount of calcium in the walls of the arteries that supply your heart muscle, and is calculated using a special computed tomography (CT) scan of your heart.
As you age, plaque can build up inside your arteries, which is called hardening of the arteries, or ‘atherosclerosis.’ Over time, calcium deposits within the plaque. The amount of calcium present can give doctors an indication of the level of plaque build-up.
Calcium scoring assesses the overall amount of cardiac plaque, which can help predict the risk of a future cardiac event.
Your doctor will use the calcium score to decide whether you are at low, normal or high risk of a future heart attack and give you guidance on how to reduce your risk.
Risk reduction recommendations may include changes to your diet, exercise, controlling blood pressure and diabetes, stopping smoking and reducing cholesterol.
When is a Calcium Score Test Required?
The benefit of knowing your score is to gain a better understanding of the relative risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the future and using that information to decide which strategies you should adopt to reduce your risk.
The calcium score is of no benefit to someone who has already had a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery or a coronary artery stent. These events indicate that you already have coronary artery plaque.
Your doctor may decide that a second calcium score scan after a few years may be helpful to compare results to the previous scan.
Coronary calcium scores are most informative in a woman between 35 and 70 years and in a man between 40 and 60 years in terms of providing information about cardiovascular risk, or the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Men over 80 years almost all have high calcium scores and therefore such a scan would not provide any useful information.
How do I Prepare?
No preparation is required for this test.
What Should I Expect?
On arrival you should expect the following:
- The radiographer (medical imaging technologist) will show you to a change room and ask you to put on a gown.
- You will then be taken to the scanner. The scanner looks like a large doughnut – it has a large round opening in the middle through which a table moves. You will lie on this table and the table moves through the opening during the scan. The scan uses a recording of the electric pulses from your heart every time it beats using an electrocardiogram (or ECG) to control the processing of the CT scan images.
- Four electrode patches will be put onto your skin on the front of your chest so the ECG wires can be attached. The ECG wires will be attached to the patches and you can watch the ECG trace of your heart on the monitor.
- You will be asked to hold your breath, the table will move and the pictures of the heart will be taken.
- The radiographer will check that the scan is successful, and then you can go.
- The scan results will be sent to the doctor who referred you, so you can discuss the score and how it can be used to help you
You can expect that the scan will take approximately 20-40 minutes.
As in all X-ray scans, there is radiation used. The radiation dose is small, about one tenth of a diagnostic CT scan. These scans should not be done if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If you have concerns about the radiation risk, even though it is very small, do not hesitate to discuss this with your doctor supervising the scan.
Calcium Score Test Results
Most reports are available to the referring doctor within 24 hours of the test being performed.
The time that it takes your doctor to receive a written report may vary, depending on:
- the urgency with which the result is needed;
- the complexity of the examination;
- how the report is conveyed from the practice or hospital to your doctor (usually sent electronically).
Please feel free to ask when your doctor is likely to have the written report. It is important that you discuss the results with the doctor who referred you, either in person or on the telephone, so that they can explain what the results mean for you.