What you can expect
A coronary artery calcium score is usually performed on patients without symptoms to determine their risk of heart disease over a 10-year period. The process of the test is as follows:
- Before the test, you should make sure to follow any instructions your doctor or nurse practitioner provides to you about food and drink guidelines for the day of the test as well as appropriate clothing to wear and any jewelry that should be removed.
- As you begin the test, you’ll be asked to lie down on a table that will pass through a doughnut-shaped scanner.
- During the test, you’ll have to remain very still, and you may be asked to hold your breath for short intervals to reduce the risk of blurred images from breathing. Radiation is beamed at the heart, and detectors opposite the source of the radiation beam translate the radiation into images. These images are taken in different views of the coronary arteries and compiled by a computer into 3D images.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) will be performed at the same time as the CT scan to monitor the electrical activity of your heart. (Your heartbeat is a result of natural electrical impulses in your heart muscle.) Electrodes—small, sticky patches—will be attached to your chest for the EKG.
- Since no IV is needed during the test, you’ll be ready to leave immediately after the test. In many cases, you may receive the results before you leave.
Your doctor will analyze the information from the scan to determine a score that indicates the patient’s risk for heart disease. A score of zero indicates no calcium deposits in the coronary arteries. A calcium score of zero indicates a very low risk of developing cardiovascular disease within the next five years. A score above 80 typically indicates an increased risk of a heart attack, and scores of 400 or more are indicative of extensive heart disease.