CT Coronary Calcium Score: What It Is and Who Should Consider It
By Dr Chris Irwin
A Non-invasive Test to Assess Your Heart Health
Cardiovascular diseases remain one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Australia. It is also often a silent disease, not being known about until it is too late. This is why early detection and prevention are crucial. Among the various diagnostic tests available, the CT coronary calcium score has emerged as a valuable tool in assessing your or your loved ones’ heart health. In this article, we will discuss what a CT coronary calcium score is and who should consider having this test done.
What is a CT Coronary Calcium Score?
A CT coronary calcium score, also known as the coronary artery calcium (CAC) score, is a non-invasive imaging test that measures the amount of calcium present in the coronary arteries. The test is performed using a computed tomography (CT) scan, which provides detailed images of the heart and surrounding blood vessels.
Calcium deposits in the coronary arteries can be an early sign of coronary artery disease (CAD), a condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart. By telling us how much calcium is present, the CT coronary calcium score provides valuable information about an individual’s risk of developing heart disease and experiencing a cardiac event, such as a heart attack
Who Should Consider a CT Coronary Calcium Score?
I recommend CTC for individuals who are at an intermediate risk of developing heart disease. Your doctor will guide you on what risk level you are.
Factors that may place someone in this risk category include:
- Age: Men aged 40-70 years and women aged 50-70 years are more likely to benefit from this test.
- Family history: Individuals with a family history of early CAD or heart attacks may be at a higher risk.
- High blood pressure: Persistent high blood pressure can damage the arterial walls, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup.
- High cholesterol: Elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol can contribute to plaque formation in the arteries.
- Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing CAD.
- Diabetes: Diabetic patients are at a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases.
- Ethnicity: For example – Indigenous Australians, those of South Asian (eg. Indian) or African descent are at higher risk than the average caucasian Australian.
Why don’t we test everyone with a CT coronary calcium score (and not only those at ‘intermediate risk’)?
The reason for this is that if we already know you are at high risk of heart disease (or we already know you have heart disease) there is usually no point of putting you through a CTC as the result does not change our management – we should already be doing everything we can from a medical and lifestyle management point of view to keep your heart healthy.
If you are considered low risk by your doctor, a CTC is usually not recommended because the number of people we would need to scan to find one person with silent heart disease would be very high. This causes a lot of unnecessary cost to patients, and also involves small exposure to radiation that is potentially unnecessary. Talk to your doctor if you would like more information about this and whether a CTC might be right for you.
What to Expect During the Test
The CT coronary calcium score test is a quick, non-invasive procedure. You’ll lie down on a table that slides into the CT scanner, which resembles a large, doughnut-shaped machine. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds while the machine takes images of your heart. The entire procedure usually takes around 10-15 minutes.
Understanding Your Results
The results of your CT coronary calcium score are expressed as a numerical value. A higher score indicates a greater amount of calcium in your coronary arteries, and therefore, a higher risk of developing CAD. Your doctor will use this information, along with other risk factors, to determine the most appropriate preventive measures and treatment plan for you.
A CT coronary calcium score is a valuable diagnostic tool that can help assess your risk of developing coronary artery disease. By better assessing your risk of heart disease, this test enables us to implement preventive measures and treatment plans early, reducing the chances of severe cardiac events. If you think you may be at risk or want to know more information,book an appointment to determine if a CT coronary calcium score is appropriate for you.