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Coronary Calcium Scan

How It Is Done

A coronary calcium scan is usually done by a radiology technologist. The pictures are usually interpreted by a radiologist. Other doctors, such as a family medicine doctor, internist, cardiologist, or surgeon, may also review this test.

You will need to remove any jewelry that might be in the way of the X-ray picture. You may need to take off some of your clothes. If so, you will be given a gown to use during the test. For some CT scans, you may be able to wear your clothes. If so, wear loose clothes that do not have zippers or snaps.

Small metal discs called electrodes will be put on your chest. Wires connect these to an EKG camera.gif machine that records the electrical activity of your heart on paper. The EKG records when your heart is in the resting stage, which is the best time for the CT scans to be taken.

If your heart rate is 90 beats per minute or higher, you may be given medicine to slow your heart rate.

During the test, you will lie on a table connected to the CT scanner. The scanner is a large doughnut-shaped machine.

The table slides into the round opening of the machine, and the scanner moves around your body. The table will move a little every few seconds to take new pictures. You may hear clicking or buzzing sounds as the table and scanner move.

You may be asked to hold your breath for 20 to 30 seconds while pictures of your heart are taken. It is very important to hold completely still while the pictures are taken.

During the test, you are usually alone in the scanner room. But the technologist will watch you through a window. You will be able to talk with the technologist through a two-way intercom.

A coronary calcium scan takes about 30 minutes.

How It Feels

You won't have any pain from the X-rays during the coronary calcium scan. But the table you lie on may feel hard and the room may be cool. You may find it hard to lie in one position for a long time.

Risks

The chance of a coronary calcium scan causing a problem is small.

  • There is a slight chance of developing cancer from having a coronary calcium scan. The chance is higher in people who have many radiation tests. If you are concerned about this risk, talk to your doctor about the amount of radiation this test may give you and confirm that the test is needed.
  • Plaque that is not hard (soft plaque) can't be found with a coronary calcium scan. Soft plaque is the earliest form of damage to the arteries of the heart. If you have soft plaque in your arteries, the test may give normal results, but this is a false-negative result. The buildup of soft plaque can also cause a heart attack.
  • It is possible to have false-positive test results. This means that the test shows a high chance of plaque in the arteries of the heart when it is not true. People with a low chance of heart disease are most likely to have a false-positive test.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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