Coronary Calcium

A simple heart scan can provide your coronary calcium score which helps assess your heart attack risk. This non-invasive test identifies plaque buildup in the coronary vessels.

  • A painless, convenient CT scan shows the amount of calcified (hard) plaque in the heart vessels. This level of calcium relates to plaque build-up in your arteries. Plaque in the arteries can cause heart attacks.
  • The total amount of plaque is calculated to determine your calcium score.
  • A coronary calcium score can range from 0 to over 400. A higher score suggests you have a greater chance of significant narrowing in the coronary arteries and a higher risk for having a heart attack.
  • Both the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association endorse this exam. The ACC found that a patient’s score is an “excellent cardiovascular disease risk marker” and can help guide treatment decisions including life-style changes, medications and immediate interventions.

Are you at Risk?

Knowing your coronary calcium score – especially for those who have a high risk – helps doctors take preventative measures to protect your heart.

While calcium scoring can be useful for all patients, it’s typically recommended for men over age 45 and postmenopausal women over age 55 who also have one or more major risk factors for a heart attack:

  • Elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight/obese
  • Past or present smoker
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Non-traditional risk factors

There are types of coronary disease like “soft plaque” atherosclerosis that are not detected during a CT scan. While a CT coronary calcium scan is useful for many patients, it’s not absolute in predicting your risk for a life-threatening event, such as a heart attack. Talk with your doctor about the best way to assess your heart health.

What should I expect during a CT coronary calcium scoring scan?

  • A CT coronary calcium scan is fast, easy and non-invasive. You will lie on the table and it will move through the CT scanner to acquire needed images.
  • This procedure is pain-free and typically takes about 20 minutes.
  • You may be asked to avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours prior to the exam.
  • You will be able to resume all normal activity immediately after the procedure.
  • If there is a chance you might be pregnant, always inform your technologist.

Why should a radiologist perform my heart scan?

The radiologists at Wake Radiology UNC REX have subspecialized expertise in body imaging. They are trained in interpreting CT images and will send a complete, detailed report to the provider who referred you for exam. That provider will discuss the results with you.

Wake Radiology UNC REX is accredited by the American College of Radiology for CT studies. This means our practice has met quality guidelines and follows strict safety protocols at all offices that offer CT exams.

    How do I schedule a coronary calcium scoring screening?

    Talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits of a heart scan and discuss if you should have a coronary calcium scan. Once you have your physician’s referral, contact our Scheduling Team at 919-232-4700 to find an outpatient imaging location near where you live or work.

    Will your scan be covered by insurance?

    Medicare and most insurance companies do not pay for this study. Wake Radiology UNC REX recommends that patients check with their insurance carrier before scheduling their CT coronary calcium scoring scan to confirm coverage, costs and payment information.

    • Wake Radiology UNC REX requires a signed physician order for this exam.
    • The cost of this exam is $350.

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