February is National Heart Health Month and it seems the perfect time to get to the heart of the matter on the subject of heart scans which is a cardiac calcium scoring exam, why you should be concerned about calcium build up in the arteries of your heart and what steps to take to find out how your heart measures up.
A heart scan otherwise referred to as coronary artery calcium scoring is a test that can detect coronary heart disease in its earliest stages in the arteries of the heart. These arteries (vessels) supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart wall. Calcium scoring measures calcium deposits (hardened plaque) that narrow these vessels and if left untreated can cause heart muscle disease.
Traditional testing cannot detect these calcium deposits until they have narrowed the arteries by at least 50 percent, yet narrowing of only 30 to 50 percent is common in people who have already had heart attacks. Coronary atherosclerosis, as detected by these calcium deposits, is responsible for as many as half of all heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths – often in people who have had no previous symptoms of heart disease.
A CT (Computerized Tomography) scan is used to determine each person’s specific calcium score. CT is an x-ray procedure that uses a computer to create a clear, two-dimensional view of your heart and arteries. CRL’s lead Cardiac CT Radiologist, Dr. Robin Parker tells us that, “With coronary artery disease being the single leading cause of death in America, this simple non-invasive CT scan to evaluate for coronary artery stenosis can benefit millions of patients.”
Should you consider getting a heart scan? CT Calcium scoring is designed for men age 40 – 65 and women age 45 – 70 with one or more of the common risk factors for heart disease:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- physical inactivity
- chest pain
- family history of heart disease
- heart attack
Interpreting Your Score
A “negative” calcium scoring CT scan will show no calcification within the coronary arteries. This suggests that atherosclerotic plaque is minimal at most and that the chance of coronary artery disease developing over the next two to five years is very low.
A “positive” test means that coronary artery disease is present even if you have no symptoms. The amount of calcification—expressed as a score—may help to predict the likelihood of a heart attack in the coming years.
CT calcium scoring is simple. There are no needles and no dyes and doesn’t require special preparation in advance. You may continue to take your usual medication but should avoid caffeine and smoking for 24 hours prior to the exam.
During the test, you will lie on your back on a table attached to the CT scanner. Electrodes (small metal discs) will be attached to your chest and to an ECG (electrocardiogram) machine that records the electrical activity of your heart. These electrodes have no pain associated and make it possible to record CT scans at the best times—when the heart is not actively contracting.
As the table slides through the opening in the scanner, a cylinder at the opening rotates around your body to generate the needed images. The table will move forward slightly every few seconds so that you will be in the proper position for each new cross-sectional image of your heart. You will be asked to hold your breath for periods of 20 to 30 seconds while images are recorded. This process continues until all regions of the heart have been thoroughly examined.
If you have questions or would like to schedule your Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring exam contact one of Consulting Radiologists, Ltd. partners at the following locations:
Abbott Northwestern Hospital – Minneapolis Heart Institute
Cambridge Medical Center
District One Hospital, Faribault
Hutchinson Area Health Care
New Ulm Medical Center
Prairie Lakes Healthcare System
Ridgeview Medical Center, Waconia
Riverview Health, Crookston
Sleepy Eye Medical Center
St. Francis Regional Medical Center, Shakopee
St. Luke’s Hospital – Duluth
Welia Health – Mora