A cardiac CT scan for coronary calcium is a non-invasive way of confirming about the presence (or absence), location and extent of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries—the vessels that supply oxygen-containing blood to the heart muscle. Calcified plaque results when there is a build-up of fat and other substances under the inner layer of the artery. This material can calcify which signals the presence of atherosclerosis, a disease of the vessel wall, also called coronary artery disease (CAD). People with this disease have an increased risk for heart attacks. Over time, progression of plaque build up (CAD) can narrow the arteries or even close off blood flow to the heart. The result may be chest pain, also sometimes called "angina" in the chest or a heart attack.
Because calcium is a marker of CAD, the amount of calcium detected on a cardiac CT scan is a helpful prognostic tool. The findings on cardiac CT are expressed as a calcium score. Another name for this test is coronary artery calcium scoring.
Common Uses of Cardiac CT
The goal of cardiac CT for calcium scoring is to determine if CAD is present and to what extent, even if there are no symptoms. It is a screening study that may be recommended by a doctor for patients with risk factors for CAD but no visible symptoms.
Major Risk Factors for CAD
- Abnormally high blood cholesterol levels
- A family history of heart disease
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure