What is a coronary calcium scan?
coronary calcium scan is a screening test for people
who have no symptoms of heart disease but may be at risk for getting it. The
computed tomography (CT) to check for calcium buildup
plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. The
coronary arteries wrap around the heart and supply it with blood and oxygen.
Calcium in these arteries is an early sign of heart disease.
During the test, a CT scan takes pictures of your heart in thin sections.
The result is a score based on the amount of calcium seen on the scan. The
higher your calcium score, the higher your risk for a heart attack.
Most health insurance plans do not pay for coronary calcium scanning. The
cost of the test can range from $300 to $500.
CT angiography, can also tell how much calcium has
built up in your arteries. This test costs more than a standard coronary
calcium scan. It uses a special dye that is injected into a vein (IV) in your arm. CT angiography is best for people who
already have symptoms of heart disease, and only if other tests are
Talk with your doctor if you
want to know more about CT angiography. This Decision Point is about coronary
Who should get a coronary calcium scan?
cases, the results from your physical exam and other tests will give your
doctor enough information about your risk for heart disease. But your doctor
may want you to have a coronary calcium scan if you have several risk factors.
Risk factors are things that can increase your risk for heart disease, such as
high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, and smoking.
need to have your doctor refer you for a coronary calcium scan. But if you
decide to have the test on your own, talk with your doctor first.
Coronary calcium scanning is most helpful in people who have no symptoms
but who are at medium risk for getting heart disease.2
Medium risk means that you have a 10% to 20% chance of having a heart attack in
the next 10 years, based on your risk factors. Both the American Heart
Association and the American College of Cardiology agree that people at medium
risk can benefit from this test.3
out your risk, see the
Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?
Or you can talk with your doctor about your risk for heart disease.
This screening test is not for you if:
- You don't have any risk factors for heart
- You are at high risk for heart disease. (You should
already be under a doctor’s care.)
What do the results mean?
After the scan, you will
get a test result that is a number. This is your calcium score. The score can
range from 0 to more than 400. Any score over 100 means that you are likely to
have heart disease. The higher your score, the greater your chance of having a
People who score between 100 and 400 or higher, and
who are at medium risk for heart disease, are 4 times more likely to have a
heart attack in the next 3 to 5 years than people who score 0.1
After you have had the test, talk with your
doctor about the results and what they mean for you.
What are the benefits of a coronary calcium scan?
Many people only learn that they have heart disease when they have a
heart attack. A coronary calcium scan is one way to find out if you have early
heart disease before it gets worse. After you know your risk, you can make
lifestyle changes such as eating a heart-healthy diet, getting more exercise,
and quitting smoking. But if you're worried about heart disease, you can make
these changes even if you don't have the test.
A coronary calcium
scan can give your doctor more information about your risk for heart disease,
especially if you already have risk factors. If your score is high, for
example, your doctor may prescribe medicines to lower these risks. A high score
may also lead to other tests and treatment that could help you avoid a heart
What are the risks?
- You could get a high score from the test even
if your arteries are not blocked. This could lead to extra tests that you don't
need, or cause you to worry when there’s no reason. But these kinds of results
are most likely to happen in people who are at low risk for heart disease. So
if you already know that you're at low risk, you shouldn't get this
- Not all blocked arteries have calcium. A low test score may
make you feel safe even though you're still at risk.
- Over time and
after many CT exams, there is a slight chance of cancer from radiation used
during the test.
If you need more information, see the topic
Coronary Artery Disease.