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  • Calcium Scoring

    Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring

    What is Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring

    A Cardiac CT scan for coronary calcium is a non-invasive way of obtaining information about the presence, location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries—the vessels that supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle. Calcified plaque results when there is a build-up of fat and other substances under the inner layer of the artery. This material can calcify which signals the presence of atherosclerosis, a disease of the vessel wall, also called coronary artery disease (CAD). People with this disease have an increased risk for heart attacks. In addition, over time, progression of plaque build up (CAD) can narrow the arteries or even close off blood flow to the heart. The result may be chest pain, also sometimes called “angina” in the chest or a heart attack.

    Because calcium is a marker of CAD, the amount of calcium detected on a cardiac CT scan is a helpful prognostic tool. The findings on cardiac CT are expressed as a calcium score. Another name for this test is coronary artery calcium scoring.

    What are some common uses of the procedure?

    The goal of Cardiac CT for calcium scoring is to determine if CAD is present and to what extent, even if there are no symptoms. It is a screening study that may be recommended by a physician for patients with risk factors for CAD but no clinical symptoms.

    The major risk factors for CAD are:

    • abnormally high blood cholesterol levels
    • a family history of heart disease
    • diabetes
    • high blood pressure
    • cigarette smoking
    • being overweight or obese
    • being physically inactive

    How is the procedure performed?

    The technologist begins by positioning you on the CT examination table, usually lying flat on your back.

    Electrodes (small, sticky discs) will be attached to your chest and to an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine that records the electrical activity of the heart. This makes it possible to record CT scans when the heart is not actively contracting.

    Next, the table will move quickly through the scanner to determine the correct starting position for the scans. Then, the table will move slowly through the machine as the actual CT scanning is performed.

    Patients are asked to hold their breath for a period of 10 to 20 seconds while images are recorded.

    The entire procedure including the actual CT scanning is usually completed within 10 minutes.

    Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

    Our radiologist will analyze the images.

    A negative cardiac CT scan shows no calcification within the coronary arteries. This suggests that CAD is absent or so minimal it cannot be seen by this technique. The chance of having a heart attack over the next two to five years is very low under these circumstances.

    A positive test means that CAD is present, regardless of whether or not the patient is experiencing any symptoms. The amount of calcification—expressed as the calcium score—may help to predict the likelihood of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the coming years and helps your medical doctor or cardiologist decide whether the patient may need to take preventive medicine or undertake other measures such as diet and exercise to lower the risk for heart attack.

    What are the benefits?

    Benefits

    What are the limitations of Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring?

    A person who is very large may not fit into the opening of a conventional CT scanner or may be over the weight limit for the moving table.

    CAD, especially in people below 50 years of age can be present without calcium and may not be detected by this exam.

    If a patient has cardiac stents, a CT Calcium Scoring cannot be performed.

    A high heart rate may interfere with the test. If a patient’s heart rate is 90 or more beats per minute, the exam may need to be rescheduled.

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