High-resolution Computed Tomography (CT) allows your doctor to obtain images of the inside of your body. A cardiac CT scan for calcium scoring pays particular attention to the coronary arteries to determine the presence, location, and extent of calcified plaque. Calcification of the coronary arteries is a marker for the presence of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD).
The findings from the CT scan are relayed to a patient as a “cardiac score,” which is compared with published data relating to scores for people of similar age and the same gender to determine a “Percentile Ranking.” A second score, the “Volume Score,” is sensitive to the size of the lesion and helpful when performing comparison with follow-up examination.
The scores and percentile rankings are intended to help physicians better evaluate their patients’ risk of developing cardiac events, even — and especially — if the patient does not have clinical symptoms. While the cardiac calcium score does not correspond directly to the narrowing in the artery, it does have a correlation with the amount of coronary atherosclerosis present. Cardiac calcium scoring can also be helpful to track the progression of disease.
Physicians may suggest a patient undergo cardiac calcium scoring if the patient has heart disease risk factors, including but not limited to high cholesterol, obesity, or a family history of heart disease. Women who are pregnant, or who might be pregnant, should inform their physician and CT technologist.
CT scanning, in general, is not recommended for pregnant women unless medically necessary, due to the potential risk to the baby.
During the exam, the patient lies flat on the CT table. Electrodes are attached to the patient’s chest and to an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine that records the electrical activity of the heart, which makes it possible to record CT scans when the heart isn’t actively contracting.
The scanner rotates around the patient as the table passes through it. Depending on the type of CT performed, the scanner may make several passes. Patients are asked to hold their breath for approximately 10 to 20 seconds while images are recorded.
The entire test takes about 10 minutes.
It is important to note that while the CT scan itself is a painless exam, it does involve exposure to a small dose of radiation. However, the benefits of an accurate and early diagnosis far outweigh the risk. Also, a high calcium score can lead to other diagnostic tests for heart disease, which may or may not provide results with clinical value and can be associated with side effects.
A UT Southwestern Radiologist will interpret the exam, and the results will be provided to both the patient and the physician designated by the patient when the cardiac calcium scoring exam is scheduled.
As a follow-up to the exam, patients can call 214-645-8300 to schedule an appointment to discuss the findings with a UT Southwestern specialist. (This appointment is not included in the screening fee, but health insurance providers will often cover it.)
For information about Cardiac Calcium Scoring at UT Southwestern, please call 214-645-8300.