Posts tagged ‘atherosclerosis’

February 11, 2014

Heart Health: CT Coronary Calcium Score

One image from a coronary calcium  score showing calcifications (which show up as bright white, like the bones) in the wall of the coronary arteries at a level just above the heart.

One image from a coronary calcium score showing calcifications (which show up as bright white, like the bones) in the wall of the coronary arteries at a level just above the heart.

It’s heart month! We are joining with the American Heart Association in trying to raise awareness of the leading killer of women and men. In the past, we’ve explained the basics of a CT scan,  and today we’d like to talk about a specific use of the technology to obtain a CT Coronary Calcium Score.

A Coronary Calcium Score is a scan of the heart which evaluates the arteries for the presence of calcium. Calcium build up in the arteries is one part of coronary atherosclerosis – the process by which arteries are narrowed by buildup of plaque, both calcified and noncalcified (soft). Finding calcium in the arteries of the heart indicates coronary artery disease and is associated with an increased risk of future cardiovascular events, like heart attacks.

Obtaining a calcium score is a simple, quick, painless procedure. You will have EKG leads placed and then a quick scan of the heart will be done with the CT machine. No contrast is needed. Your study will be reviewed by your radiologist with computer assisted analysis. All calcium related to the coronary (heart) arteries will be identified, and a summation of the amount of calcium present will be reported. The score will be compared with others of the same age and sex.

The calcium score will give an estimate of the likelihood of significant coronary artery disease. It is important to remember that not all coronary artery disease will be calcified. Soft areas of plaque will not be found by this technique.

Coronary calcium score is a useful tool to consider for anyone in an intermediate risk category for heart disease or in some low-risk patients, especially those with a family history of early heart disease (before the age of 55 in a man or 65 in a woman).

What places someone in an intermediate risk category? Things like smoking, a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol can be factors. To determine your risk for heart disease, the Mayo Clinic has an excellent tool, found here. In intermediate and low risk patients, a calcium score can be an important independent predictor of the risk of future heart problems.

Recently, the American College of Radiology has reviewed the recommendations to determine the relative importance of getting a calcium score for different risk category patients. Their thorough statement and review can be found here.

For all, remember that cardiovascular disease is a leading killer. Take action to find out your risks and ways you can improve your heart health.