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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and the Heart CT Scan

A heart computerized tomography (CT) scan, also called calcium-score screening heart scan, is a test used to detect calcium deposits found in atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries of heart disease patients. State-of-the-art computerized tomography (CT) methods, such as this one, are the most effective way to detect coronary calcification from atherosclerosis, before symptoms develop. More coronary calcium means more coronary atherosclerosis, suggesting a greater likelihood of significant narrowing somewhere in the coronary system and a higher risk of future cardiovascular problems.

Your doctor uses the calcium-score screening heart scan to evaluate risk for future coronary artery disease.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

Is It a Heart Attack or Angina?

It’s dramatic when someone has a heart attack on television or in the movies. But in real life, symptoms can be more subtle and difficult to identify. And because heart attack and angina symptoms are so similar, it may be hard to tell what's going on. But knowing the differences -- and the reasons behind them -- can result in seeking treatment sooner, and living longer.

Read the Is It a Heart Attack or Angina? article > >

Because there are certain forms of coronary disease, such as "soft plaque" atherosclerosis, that escape detection during this CT scan, it is important to remember that this test is not absolute in predicting your risk for a life-threatening event, such as a heart attack.

Your doctor may also order a coronary CT angiogram (CTA) to look directly at the arteries of the heart. With the CTA, pictures of your coronary arteries are made. This is regularly performed in addition to a heart CT scan now.

How Should I Prepare for a Heart CT Scan?

You may continue to take any medications, but should avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours before the test. CT scanners use X-rays. For your safety, the amount of radiation exposure is kept to a minimum. But, because X-rays can harm a developing fetus, this procedure is not recommended if you are pregnant. Tell your technologist and your doctor if you are:

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