A coronary calcium scan uses a CT scanner (also called an electron-beam scanner) to make detailed pictures of your heart. It identifies the calcium deposits that can signal atherosclerotic plaque, but its value in determining risk for heart disease is still uncertain.
We do know that women at risk for heart disease tend to have lower Agatston scores than men with comparable risk levels.
This scan isn’t covered by insurance, and may cost up to $500, so be sure you understand why your doctor wants you to have one.
What to Expect:
- You will be asked to avoid caffeine and cigarettes before the test.
- A sedative will help you relax in the confined space.
- The room will be cool for the scanner.
- The test will last about 10 minutes.
- You’ll be able to go home on your own.
Preparing for a Calcium Scan
You may be asked to avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours before the test.
Undergoing a Calcium Scan
When you arrive at the imaging center, you will be given a hospital gown to wear and asked to remove all clothing and jewelry above the waist. You may also be given medication to slow your heart or to relieve anxiety, if you have claustrophobia or anxiety in enclosed spaces.
You will be helped to a padded table and a technician will attach electrocardiogram leads to your chest to monitor your heart during the scan. You may notice that the room is cool; the lower temperature is necessary for the scanner to function properly.
The technician will move to a nearby room to operate the computer that controls the CT scanner. She or he will be able to communicate with you through an intercom system.
The test will take about 10 minutes. The technician will remotely slide the table into the CT scanner so that the tube surrounds your body below the neck, leaving your head free. The machine will make clicking and whirring sounds as it takes images, and you may be asked to hold your breath for 10 to 20 seconds at a time to prevent movement in the image.
You’ll be able to leave on your own and return to your normal activities after the scan is complete.
Waiting for Your Results
The results will be sent to the doctor who referred you. It may take a few days to receive them.
Learning Your Results
If the scan indicates no calcifications in your coronary arteries, your risk of heart disease is low. If calcifications are found in your coronary arteries, the amount will be calculated and the results reported as an Agatston score. The higher the score, the greater the amount of atherosclerosis or plaque buildup. Your doctor can help you interpret your Agatston score to give you an idea of your risk for heart attack or stroke.
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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