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CT Cardiac Calcium Scoring

What is CT cardiac calcium scoring?

CT cardiac calcium scoring is an imaging technique that looks at your arteries, checking for built-up plaque calcified deposits that can interfere with the normal flow of blood. Plaque build-up is a primary indicator of coronary artery disease (CAD), the leading cause of death for both men and women. In coronary artery disease, sticky cholesterol clings to the walls of the large arteries that supply your heart with oxygen-rich blood. The cholesterol deposits form plaques that narrow the vessels while also making the blood vessels less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis or “hardening” of the arteries. The combination of narrowing and “hardening” makes it much harder for your heart to receive the blood it needs to function properly, significantly increasing the risk of heart attack. CT cardiac calcium scoring uses advanced technology to evaluate your arteries for signs of CAD so you can receive prompt and appropriate treatment. Higher levels of coronary calcium have been correlated with higher risk for cardiac events.

How CT calcium scoring works

CT stands for computed tomography, and it uses the same basic technology as a traditional X-ray. But while an X-ray uses a single burst of radiation to obtain images, CT scans use an array of X-rays that rotate around your body, capturing far more “data” which is then used by a special computer to create very detailed, cross-sectional images. These two-dimensional images can be reassembled and used in different ways to create three-dimensional views of your organs and other tissues and structures inside your body. The X-rays used in CT scans cause the hardened calcium plaques to appear "whiter" and brighter than the surrounding softer tissue, enabling the radiologist to use the images to assess your risk for CAD. 

Who should have CT cardiac calcium scoring?

Calcium scoring can be especially beneficial for anyone who also has risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • high cholesterol

  • diabetes

  • history of smoking

  • family history of heart disease, CAD or high blood pressure

  • obesity or being overweight by 20 percent or more

  • sedentary lifestyle

Cardiac calcium scoring has been shown to be a more powerful tool than cholesterol for predicting heart disease, identifying the disease in its early stages, even before early symptoms appear.

What to expect during your CT calcium scoring exam

CT calcium scoring exams at Windsor Radiology are fast and completely painless. During your exam, you’ll lie on a imaging table that’s designed to slide into the CT machine. Before the exam begins, the table will slide in and out of the device so the machine can determine the best starting position for the scans. You may see bright lights shining on your body as the machine calculates this starting position. Once the exam begins, the table moves into the device more slowly to allow the scanner to capture the images of your arteries. As the scan is completed, you’ll be asked to hold your breath for 20 seconds. By holding your breath, you also hold your lungs “still” to reduce movement inside your body that could make the images blurry.

After the exam is complete, you’ll be able to go home right away. The images created by your CT scan will be reviewed by one of our board-certified radiologists who will carefully examine the images for signs of calcified plaque buildup. Based on the amount of plaque that’s present, you’ll be assigned a numerical score called a coronary artery calcium (CAC) score. This score helps your doctor understand your overall risk for CAD so you can receive the most appropriate care based on your specific risk profile.

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