What is a coronary calcium scan?

Heart health

By pH health care professionals

Calcium isn’t always a good thing. You want it in your bones, but not so much in the form of kidney stones or in your heart. After all, calcium buildup in your heart is a risk factor for heart disease. But now, there’s a new way to find out if that’s happening.

coronary calcium scan takes a CT scan of your chest to detect calcium. While insurance doesn’t reliably pay for them yet, the presence of calcium, detected on these special CT scans can mean that you are likely to have atherosclerosis, or clogging arteries. Clogged arteries can lead directly to a heart attack.

Because your blood vessels do stretch, a little calcium doesn’t mean you’re going to have a heart attack tomorrow. However, at some point, all those pizzas and steak leftovers get to be too much for the artery, and real narrowing of the blood vessels can happen.

This test is less invasive than the traditional angiogram, which features a catheter winding through your body to your heart to find blockages, and requires observation in the hospital afterward.

With a coronary calcium scan, you end up getting a score. Here is the scale that is used:

  • 0 – No identifiable disease
  • 1 to 99 – Mild disease
  • 100 to 399 – Moderate disease
  • ≥400 – Severe disease

Potential concerns to be aware of:

In some studies, patients who essentially failed a cardiac stress test did not always show coronary calcium, although the great majority did. For people who pay out of pocket for this test, it’s important to know that since it’s not a perfect test, no calcium doesn’t mean a license to eat burgers every day. There could still be plaque on your arteries, so mindful, healthy eating is still a good idea. Further, you can have clean arteries and still develop diabetes from poor eating habits, or aggravate an autoimmune disease or other condition by gaining weight from unhealthy food. 

Finally, radiation from a CT scan adds to your lifetime radiation exposure, which technically raises your risk for cancer. Remember that the CT causes many different tissues to get exposed to radiation—heart, lung, gut—and if you’re already on a very healthy diet with great cholesterol levels, the chances are low that you would have a positive calcium scan.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.