Coronary Calcium Scan (Calcium Score test)

If you’re at risk for heart disease because of your family history or other factors, you may benefit from a coronary calcium scan, also known as a calcium score test.

Calcium is one of the substances that causes clogged arteries. A coronary calcium scan shows whether calcium has begun to build up in your coronary arteries.

Your test results help us predict your odds of developing coronary artery disease (CAD) or having a heart attack during the next five years.

If your CAD risk is elevated, we’ll help you create a personalized treatment plan. Making certain lifestyle changes or taking certain medicines can slow CAD progression and help prevent serious complications.

How a coronary calcium scan works

A coronary calcium scan is a special type of CT scan. It uses a small amount of radiation to take 3D pictures of your coronary arteries, which are blood vessels that wrap around your heart.

If you have CAD, your coronary arteries will contain hardened deposits of calcium, fats, and cholesterol, also known as plaque. The more plaque you have in your coronary arteries, the narrower they become. This increases your risk of a heart attack or heart failure.

The calcium found in plaque shows up very well on a coronary calcium scan. We can quickly and easily see whether your heart health is on track or if you need to take immediate steps to prevent further plaque build-up.

If you think you’d benefit from a coronary calcium scan, talk to your primary care provider. In order to have this test at the UI Heart and Vascular Center, you’ll need a referral from your provider.

What to expect during a coronary calcium scan

Your coronary calcium scan will probably take about 15 minutes from start to finish.

During your procedure 

A coronary calcium scan usually includes the following steps:  

  • First, we’ll help you lay down on your back, on a moveable table.
  • We’ll attach sticky metal discs called electrodes to your chest. These electrodes are attached by wire to a machine that keeps track of your heart rate.
  • Next, the table will slide into the center of a large, doughnut-shaped scanner. You may feel the table move gently back and forth throughout the procedure.
  • You’ll need to lie as still as possible while the machine takes pictures. Your imaging technician may occasionally ask you to hold your breath.
  • Once your scan is complete, you can go home or return to your normal activities.

After your procedure

The pictures taken during your coronary calcium scan will be read by a cardiologist with special training in cardiac imaging. The cardiologist will write a report summarizing the results of your procedure and send it to the provider who ordered it.

Your report will include a coronary calcium score. It’s based on the amount and thickness of calcium deposits in your coronary arteries.

Understanding your coronary calcium score 

Your coronary calcium score determines whether your risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD) and a subsequent heart attack is low, medium, or high. It will fall between zero and 400.

  • 0: There is no calcium in your coronary arteries. Your odds of developing CAD or having a heart attack in the next five years is low.
  • 0­­­­­­–100: A score in this range is also considered low risk, because it means there is very little calcium build-up.
  • 100–300: A score in this range means you have moderate amounts of calcium in your coronary arteries. You have a relatively high risk of developing CAD and having a heart attack during the next five years.
  • 300 and up: A score in this range means you already have extensive calcium build-up. You have a very high risk of advanced CAD and a heart attack.

Your provider will help you understand what your score means. You’ll also discuss next steps, including further testing or potential treatments.

Who can benefit from a coronary calcium scan?

You should talk to your primary care provider about having a coronary calcium scan if:

  • You have a moderate risk of heart disease because of your family history, lifestyle choices, or other factors.
  • You do not have any cardiovascular symptoms.
  • You’re between the ages of 40 and 60.

In most cases, cardiac imaging procedures are for people who have symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. But it’s possible to have CAD without knowing it. Symptoms may not appear until your coronary arteries are severely narrowed.

A coronary calcium scan takes the guesswork out of deciding when or how to treat you. This test lets us see if there is plaque build-up in your coronary arteries and how extensive it is. That way, we can make informed decisions about your treatment options.

Coronary calcium scan cost

Even though coronary calcium scans can play an important role in determining your risk of heart disease, they are not yet covered by many health insurance plans.

If you and your provider decide you should have this test, there’s a chance you’ll need to pay the full cost. The UI Heart and Vascular Center offers coronary calcium scans at a discounted rate.

To find out our current rate for this procedure, please call 1-319-356-7102.

Are you interested in having a coronary calcium scan?

If you're concerned about your heart health, a coronary calcium scan can help predict your risk of coronary artery disease. Talk to your primary care provider about getting a referral for this procedure.