What is Calcium Scoring?

Cardiac CT for calcium scoring (often shortened to calcium scoring) is a test that takes images of the heart, and shows calcium and blockages in your heart arteries. The images can help your doctor find problems in your heart’s structure and in how your heart pumps blood.

Why Do People Have a Calcium Scoring Test?

A doctor may ask you to have calcium scoring when other tests, such as chest X-rays, electrocardiograms (ECG), echocardiograms or stress tests don’t provide enough information about your heart. Through calcium scoring, your doctor may gather additional information on:

  • Your heart’s structure and how well your heart pumps blood
  • Scarring of the heart muscle caused by a heart attack
  • Fluid in the area that covers the surface of the heart
  • The amount of plaque buildup and narrowing of your coronary arteries
  • Any abnormalities in the large blood vessels leaving the heart
  • Your risk for a heart attack

Can It Help Show if You Have Heart Disease?

This test can be used to measure the amount of calcium in your heart arteries (calcium score). Your calcium score gives doctors an idea of how much plaque there is in your heart arteries that hasn’t caused problems yet. Your calcium score may help predict your risk of a heart attack and tell you and your doctor how much more aggressive you should be to reduce your risk factors. This is particularly helpful if you are at “intermediate” risk.

Calcium scoring is not recommended for routine screening of people who don’t have symptoms of heart disease and have a low risk of heart attacks. If you’ve already had a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery or a coronary stent, calcium scoring won’t provide any additional information.

Before You Begin

Tell your doctor if there’s a possibility you are pregnant and discuss any recent illnesses, medical conditions, medications you’re taking and allergies. You will be instructed not to eat or drink anything and to avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours before the exam. If you have a known allergy to contrast material, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. These medications must be taken 12 hours before your exam. Leave jewelry at home and wear loose, comfortable clothing. You may be asked to wear a gown.

During the Calcium Scoring Test

  • During the test you lie on a table connected to the scanner.
  • Monitoring electrodes will be attached to your chest.
  • The electrodes help the computer connected to the scanner to create clear images.
  • When you’re ready, the table slowly moves inside the machine. The scanner arches around you but doesn’t touch you. The exam is painless.
  • The technician will watch you closely through a window. You can talk to him or her through a two-way intercom.
  • The technician will ask you to hold your breath for short periods.
  • Scanning takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Talk with your doctor to see if a calcium scoring test is right for you.