A Guide to Coronary Calcium Scans

Here in Australia, a number of organisations offer coronary calcium scans. What, I hear you say, is a coronary calcium scan?

Why Look At Coronary Calcium?

A coronary calcium scan looks for specks of calcium (or calcification) in the walls of the coronary (heart) arteries. Calcification can be an early sign of coronary heart disease (CHD).

In CHD, waxy or fatty deposits (known as plaque) build up in the walls of the coronary arteries. this may cause vessel narrowing, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, resulting in chest pain or discomfort (known as angina).

Vessels may also rupture, with a blood clot forming on the surface, which may partly or completely block the coronary artery. This is the most common cause of a heart attack. Over time, calcification forms in these coronary artery plaques, which can be detected in a coronary calcium CT scan, often long before an individual even experiences symptoms.

Computed tomography (CT) is an imaging procedure that uses special x-ray equipment to create detailed pictures, or scans, of areas inside the body. It is also called computerized tomography and computerized axial tomography (CAT).

Low dose CT can accurately detect and quantify calcified coronary artery plaque, allowing coronary risk stratification. A positive scans confirms the presence of coronary artery disease.

CHD can also lead to:

  • Heart failure: is a condition in which your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs; and
  • Arrhythmia: Is a problem with the rate of rhythm of your heartbeat.

What is a Coronary Calcium Score or Scan?

A coronary calcium score is a special type of multi-detector CT scan that measures the amount of calcium present inside the coronary arteries. The scan uses x-rays to create detailed pictures of your heart and arteries. The calcium score is used to predict your risk of heart attack or other heart problems before other signs and symptoms occur.

A coronary calcium scan is a fairly simple test. You will lie quietly in the scanner machine for about 10 minutes while it takes pictures of your heart.

Who should consider having a Coronary Calcium Scan?

The following groups may wish to consider a coronary calcium scan:

  • Smokers;
  • Those with a family history of heart disease;
  • Other vascular disease;
  • High blood pressure;
  • High cholesterol (high LDL, low LDL);
  • Diabetes; and/or
  • Overweight or obese.

Useful Links

National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cscan.

Perth Radiological Clinic: http://perthradclinic.com.au/service/ct-calcium-score-scan/.

Inside Radiology: https://www.insideradiology.com.au/coronary-artery-calcium-scoring/.

Radiology Info: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=ct_calscoring.

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