Medically Reviewed by Alan M. Blaker, MD
Using a non-invasive, quick CT scan, cardiologists can now determine your risk of a coronary event, like a heart attack. McLeod Cardiologist Alan Blaker, MD, describes how your risk can be measured:
Here’s a summary of Dr. Blaker’s remarks:
A calcium score test is a non-invasive method of determining the presence of coronary artery disease in someone without symptoms, but increased risk for coronary artery disease.
A calcium score is obtained from a CT scan. It is a very quick, painless test that only takes about five minutes. After the study, your score numbers are calculated and reported to your doctor.
Calcium scoring is a screening test for patients, who are at risk for coronary artery disease but not yet having any symptoms. The score indicates the amount of calcium in the arteries around your heart. This information is useful to alert people to modify risk factors.
We use the screening to test patients who are at intermediate risk for heart disease. That would be men aged 45-75 or women aged 55-75 with at least one additional risk factor. The risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, family history of heart disease or elevated cholesterol levels.
A calcium score can be useful for someone who is willing to adjust their lifestyle or risk factors if there is evidence for disease. Occasionally, it can be useful for someone with very atypical symptoms to know if there is any evidence for coronary disease being present. It doesn’t tell us the severity of a blockage, but it does indicate that there maybe be some blockages.
Calcium scores are based upon the amount of calcium build up around the heart. Zero is the lowest number and that, generally, indicates there’s no calcium build up and unlikely to have coronary disease. If the score is elevated, it’s an indication of some degree of blockage. If the score is over 400, it may indicate the need for further non- invasive testing, such as a stress test. If it’s between 0 and 400, those are lower levels but still indicate the presence of disease and the need for aggressive risk factor modification. Some people may even need low-dose aspirin therapy.
Calcium scoring information can be very useful to encourage a person to be more aggressive in modifying risk factors like diabetes, cholesterol management, and weight loss. Cigarette smoking should cease regardless of the result, because it can lead to heart disease, lung disease, cancer and stroke.