Coronary Calcium Score: What is it and Who Needs it?

coronary calcium score

The need to keep your heart protected is certainly no secret.  More and more, patients are realizing the vast importance of exercise, heart-healthy diets, and controlling factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol in the effort to protect against heart disease.  Today, we know that prevention is the best medicine and that the more proactive steps we can take to protect our cardiovascular health now, the better off we will be in the long run.  This includes identifying heart disease risk and taking advantage of the modern tests available to help further assess that risk, including coronary calcium scans.

How Does Calcium Affect the Heart?

Calcium typically strikes us as a good thing.  However, there is more to calcium that strong and healthy teeth and bones.  When it occurs in the arteries along with deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, it is known as plaque, and it can be a serious threat to heart health.  Plaque starts out as a waxy substance, but as it builds over time, it can harden and become calcified.  These hardened deposits become a literal clog in the heart’s plumbing, preventing blood from flowing freely, while also increasing the risk of blood clots.

What is a Coronary Calcium Score?

A coronary calcium score is a scan that helps physicians to see the presence of calcified plaque in the heart’s arteries.  It is performed with a CT scan, using both x-ray and three-dimensional imaging technology to produce pictures of the heart.  On these images, calcium deposits show up as white specks in the heart’s arteries.  The amount of these deposits is then used to produce a coronary calcium score, predicting a patient’s potential risk for heart attack over the next few years.  The more plaque that is detected, the higher this score will be.

Who Should Have a Coronary Calcium Score?

Coronary calcium scans do not make sense for everyone.  They involve the use of radiation, exposing patients to the risks of radiation in the body.  However, for those who have a moderate or higher risk of heart disease, the potential rewards may outweigh the risks.  Based on the results of the scan, patients may be able to take steps to actively avoid heart disease and improve their overall health.  A physician may recommend the scan for those who are deemed at-risk based on factors such as:

  • Age
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Smoker Status
  • Medical History

What to do After a Coronary Calcium Scan?

Based on the score from a coronary calcium scan, a physician can make recommendations to help patients make changes necessary to protect their heart.  He or she may advise on lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and stopping smoking and connect patients with the resources they may need to be successful in these endeavors.  They can also advise if medication or follow-up tests are needed and put patients on the right path to monitor their health moving forward.

If you are at moderate to high risk for heart disease and are interested in learning your own calcium score, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the SouthOur cardiologists can help determine if a coronary calcium scan is right for you, as well as recommend any additional screenings that may be beneficial.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff