Cardiac Calcium Scoring: Understand Heart Disease Risk

April 5, 2022 – 4 min read

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Cardiac Calcium Scoring for Heart Health

Cardiac Calcium Scoring for Heart Disease Risk

If you have risk factors for heart disease, learning about the health of your heart’s main arteries can help your doctor select the most appropriate form of treatment to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke. That’s where cardiac calcium scoring can help.

As a type of CT scan of the heart, cardiac calcium scoring—also known as coronary calcium CT scan—measures the amount of calcium in your coronary arteries. Calcium is one of several ingredients in plaque. Over time, plaque in the coronary arteries can harden, restricting or blocking blood from reaching the heart. That blockage can cause a heart attack. In addition, pieces of plaque can break off and form blood clots, which can lodge in an artery that carries blood to the brain, causing a stroke.

Cardiac calcium scoring provides a snapshot of heart health and can help predict your heart’s future, but that future isn’t set in stone. Results that show a buildup of hard plaque don’t mean you’re destined to have a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will develop a strategy to help you reduce your risk level.

Reasons you might need a cardiac calcium scoring scan

Your doctor might order a cardiac calcium scoring CT scan if you have risk factors for heart disease, but no symptoms. These risk factors include:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • Age: Men 40 years or older, women 45 years or older
  • Accumulation of abdominal fat
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels

If your low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, is high, cardiac calcium scoring can help your doctor determine whether you need a medication to lower it. A 2021 study found that cardiac calcium scoring may help guide treatment for adults in the early stages of high blood pressure.

If you’re at risk for heart disease, cardiac calcium scoring at Touchstone Medical Imaging can help you and your doctor see how your heart is doing. Obtain a doctor’s order, then find a center offering cardiac calcium scoring near you.

What a cardiac calcium scoring scan entails

You don’t have to take any special medication or complete other steps to prepare for a cardiac calcium scoring scan. For your heart scan, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing and remove metal objects, including jewelry and glasses.

A cardiac calcium scoring scan is non-invasive and doesn’t require the use of contrast dye. During the scan, you’ll lie on a table that slides into a tunnel-like CT machine. You’ll hold your breath for a few seconds while the machine uses low-dose radiation to take pictures of your coronary arteries. The entire process takes around 10 minutes.

Understanding your results and next steps

Your doctor will discuss your cardiac calcium score with you once he or she receives it from the radiologist. Your score is called an Agatston score. But what is a normal Agatston score? Here are the Agatston score ranges and what they mean for your heart health:

  • If you have a score of 0, the scan found no evidence of coronary artery calcium. As a result, you may have zero or minimal heart disease, and your heart attack risk is low.
  • A score of 1–400 indicates a minimal to moderate amount of calcium is present. The higher your score, the higher your risk for heart disease and heart attack or stroke.
  • If your score is higher than 400, you fall into the highest risk category. The presence of plaque, even if you have a high score, doesn’t necessarily mean you have an arterial blockage or will have a heart attack or stroke. However, you’ll need to work with your doctor to reduce your risk.

Your doctor may recommend ways to lower your cardiac calcium score—and put your heart on a healthier path. Options range from conservative treatments, such as lifestyle changes and medication, to procedures to remove plaque, such as angioplasty.

Has your doctor ordered a cardiac calcium scoring scan to help plan how to address your risk for heart disease? Touchstone Medical Imaging can help you get an inside look at the health of your heart. Find a center offering cardiac calcium scoring near you.