A heart computerized tomography (CT) scan, also called a calcium-score screening heart scan, is used to find calcium deposits in plaque of people with heart disease. They’re the most effective way to spot atherosclerosis before symptoms develop.
The more coronary calcium you have, the more coronary atherosclerosis you have. That gives you a higher chance of cardiovascular problems in the future.
How Should I Prepare?
You can continue to take your medications. But you should avoid caffeine and smoking for 4 hours before the test. CT scanners use X-rays, so this is not recommended if you are pregnant. Tell your technologist and your doctor if you are:
- Having radiation therapy
What Can I Expect?
You’ll lie on a special scanning table. The technologist will clean three small areas of your chest and place small, sticky electrode patches there. Men may expect to have their chest partially shaved to help the electrodes stick. They are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor, which charts your heart's electrical activity.
You may also get a shot of contrast material. This will help your coronary arteries to show up.
During the scan, you’ll feel the table move inside a doughnut-shaped scanner. The high-speed CT scan gets many images, in sync with your heartbeat.
A computer program, guided by the cardiovascular radiologist, analyzes the images to look for calcification in your coronary arteries. If there isn’t any, it’s considered a negative exam. But there could still be soft, noncalcified plaque.
If there is calcium, the computer will create a score that estimates how much coronary artery disease you have.
The whole thing takes only a few minutes.
What Happens Next?
You can do what you normally do and eat what you usually do after the scan.
The results will be reviewed. Your doctor will then know:
- The number of calcified coronary plaques in the coronary arteries and how dense they are
- Your calcium score
A team of cardiovascular specialists will review your heart CT scan results. They will evaluate the calcium score and your CT angiogram, along with things like your blood pressure and lipid analysis. From all that, they’ll learn your odds of having coronary artery disease. They’ll then recommend any changes in your lifestyle and medications, plus other cardiac testing you should get.
You and your primary care doctor will get the full report outlining your risk assessment and follow-up recommendations.