Coronary Artery Calcium Score Test
The heart and vascular specialists at Overlake are committed to protecting your heart health and lowering your risk of heart disease. We offer coronary artery calcium score testing to identify early signs of coronary artery disease before you have symptoms.
We use this quick, painless test to find calcified, hard plaque deposits that can narrow or block the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart. Most people with coronary artery disease don’t have symptoms, yet the condition increases your risk of a heart attack. Our heart specialists use your calcium score to customize a treatment plan that can lower your risk of life-threatening heart problems.
What is a calcium score test?
A calcium score test measures the amount of calcification inside the coronary arteries. Calcification occurs when fat and cholesterol deposits (plaques) harden or calcify. The calcium score is an indication of the severity of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
To determine your calcium score, we use a CT scanner to take X-ray images of your heart and blood vessels. These images can show a buildup of hardened plaque inside the artery walls.
What is the purpose of a calcium score test?
A calcium score test is one of the simplest, most effective tools available for the early detection of coronary artery disease, which can cause a heart attack. Our heart specialists use the calcium score test to detect narrowed arteries, so you can start treatment early to prevent serious heart problems.
Your doctor may recommend a calcium score test if you’re between 40 and 75 and you have certain risk factors like:
- Family history of heart disease or heart attacks.
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or diabetes.
- High-stress lifestyle.
- History of tobacco use.
- Obesity and/or sedentary lifestyle.
What are the benefits of a calcium score test?
Benefits of a calcium score test include:
- Fast, easy way to determine your risk for coronary artery disease, heart disease and heart attacks.
- Noninvasive and painless .
- No need for an IV contrast dye, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.
- The CT scan performed for a calcium score test doesn’t detect soft (noncalcified) plaques in the arteries. Over time, these plaques can calcify or harden. To view soft plaques, your doctor may order a coronary CT angiogram (CCTA).
What are the risks of a calcium score test?
CT scanners use low doses of ionizing radiation to take X-ray images. Repeated exposure to radiation may be harmful. However, this cardiac CT scan takes just a few minutes, greatly limiting your exposure.
For a small number of people, lying inside the tube-like CT scanner may cause feelings of claustrophobia. The cardiac CT scanner at Overlake has the widest opening available for this technology. You’re inside the machine for a very short period of time (about 10 minutes). If you feel uneasy, our CT technologists have methods to help you cope so you can safely complete the testing.
What should you expect when getting a calcium score test?
A calcium score test takes about 10 minutes, although you should allow more time for check-in and discharge. You go home the same day.
You should check with your health insurer about coverage. Unfortunately, many insurers don’t cover calcium score testing. At Overlake, we want everyone who needs the test to get it. We charge $99 for calcium score tests not covered by insurance.
What should you expect before a calcium score test?
You don’t have to fast or stop medications before a calcium score test.
What should you expect during a calcium score test?
An experienced cardiac imaging technologist operates the CT scanner from another room and can view you through a window. During the test, you can hear and communicate with the technologist through a two-way intercom system. During a calcium score test, you:
- Lie on your back on a scan table with your arms above your head.
- Have electrocardiogram (ECG) leads placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate.
- Remain still as the table slides inside the scanner’s wide circular opening.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds while the scanner takes images. You may hear some clicking or whirring sounds as the scanner moves around you.
What should you expect after a calcium score test?
A cardiovascular radiologist reads your scans. Overlake cardiologist Joel Wilson, MD, one of the country’s few cardiologists who has fellowship training in cardiac imaging, may review the findings. You meet with your physician later to get the score results. If you’re an Overlake patient, your calcium score will also be available in MyChart.
Your score factors in your age, gender and heart disease risk factors. The higher your calcium score, the greater your risk of heart problems. You’ll also receive a percentile score indicating where your score falls for your age and gender.
Calcium score readings include:
- 0 to 10: Little, if any signs, of coronary artery disease.
- 10 to 100: Mild coronary artery disease.
- 100 to 400: Moderate coronary artery disease.
- Above 400: Severe coronary artery disease.
If you have mild coronary artery disease, our cardiologists partner with you to help you make dietary and lifestyle changes to lower your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. You may also need medications.
A score that indicates moderate to severe coronary artery disease means you have a high risk of having a heart attack within the next 3 to 5 years. We help you take steps to treat the disease and lower this risk.
Severe coronary artery disease often requires surgical treatments. Our interventional cardiology team is a leader in coronary angioplasty, a procedure that uses catheters (thin tubes) inserted into blood vessels to open blocked arteries. Should you need coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), Overlake has the only accredited open-heart Cardiothoracic Surgery Program on the Eastside of Seattle.