What is it?

A coronary artery calcium score is a CT scan that uses X-rays to look for calcium deposits in the arteries that supply the heart. These deposits indicate a build-up of coronary plaque, which can increase the risk of a heart attack.

 Although the plaques contain calcium, they are not the result of having high calcium intake. The plaques begin as soft cholesterol deposits which have a risk of rupturing and obstructing the artery (the most common cause of heart attack). Over time, the body turns these soft cholesterol plaques into hard calcium plaques which tend to be less vulnerable to rupture but may still obstruct blood flow through the artery just the same.

Coronary artery calcium scoring is widely used in the population. Due to the abundant use (particularly overseas), there are very large studies and data sets which have been evaluated to help healthcare professionals estimate a patient’s cardiovascular risk based on the calcium score. This information will help inform you and your doctor to make decisions about what lifestyle or medications might best lower your risk of heart disease moving forward.

Who is it for?

This test is typically recommended for people who do not already have a diagnosis of coronary artery or heart disease, to help guide treatment moving forward. The most common reason for a coronary artery calcium score test is for someone with borderline or elevated cholesterol but no symptoms of heart disease. Patients with risk factors for coronary artery disease commonly have the test as well. If you have been having chest pains, this test might be ordered as part of the evaluation process but should always be used in conjunction with other testing/evaluation.

What to expect on the day?

On the day of the coronary artery calcium score test, you will attend the clinic where the test will be performed. No changes to you usual medications need to be made. You do not need to fast for the test.

During the test, you will lie down on an exam table and a technician may place ECG leads on your chest to monitor your heart rate.

You will be asked to hold your breath for a short period of time while the CT machine takes images of the heart and coronary arteries. The entire test typically takes only a few minutes.

After the test, you can return to normal activities immediately.

Overall, coronary artery calcium scoring is a safe and effective diagnostic test.