A heart scan, also called coronary calcium scan, is a specialized X-ray test that shows the pictures of the heart which may help your doctor determine and measure calcium-containing plaque in your arteries.
The calcium plaque grows gradually and blocks the blood flow in your heart. This condition may cause coronary artery disease. Hence, a heart scan helps your doctor identify any possible risks before the plaque restricts your blood flow. Your doctor critically analyzes the test reports of this heart scan to assess your health condition and suggests appropriate measures to avoid further complications.
Why is it Done?
Your doctor would want you to take this test to measure the amount of plaque in the arteries of your heart. Plaque is a substance made up of unhealthy fats, calcium and cholesterol. It grows gradually to block the blood flow of your heart, posing a significant risk to the functioning of the heart. Sometimes, the plaque bursts and forms a blood clot, which may lead to a heart attack eventually.
A heart scan or coronary calcium scan is also performed to assess the pace of plaque growth that obstructs the blood flow and poses an increased risk of coronary diseases.
Your doctor may suggest a heart scan if you experience pain or discomfort in your chest area. The doctor may also suggest heart scan to evaluate the risk of heart diseases.
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Before the Procedure
It would be better if you ask your doctor if there are any special instructions.
Also, make sure that you inform your doctor about matters relevant to the procedure. Depending on the requirements, your doctor might want you to do the following things:
- Your doctor may request you to refrain from consuming caffeinated items.
- Your doctor may suggest you avoid smoking and alcohol before the test.
- Your medical helper might ask you to change into a hospital gown.
- You have to remove all jewelery before your test.
As per the guidelines of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, a heart scan cannot be suggested for the following individuals:
- Those who have a very low risk as detectable calcium is highly unlikely if you do not have a family history of heart attacks at arly age
- Men under 40 and women under 50 years of age, ad it is unlikely that the calcium can be detected at such younger ages
- Those who have already had a known high risk – especially those with very high cholesterol, diabetes or heavy smokers – as the heart scan may probably not provide any additional information to guide the treatment
- Those with symptoms or a confirmed diagnosis of coronary artery disease, as the procedure will not help doctors understand the disease progression or risk better
- Those who have already had an abnormal coronary calcium heart scan
During the Procedure
The heart scan is a simple procedure and will take no more than 10-20 minutes.
- The technician will ask you to lie down on a flat movable surface.
- The medical professional may give you medication to slow your heart rate. He/she might also give medicines to calm your anxiety and blood pressure if you are anxious and if your doctor suggests it.
The medical technician attaches a few electrodes to your chest, which are connected to the ECG (electrocardiogram). The ECG co-ordinates the timing of X-ray images between heartbeats – when the heart muscles are relaxed.
During a heart scan, you lie on the back on a movable tabl that slides into the tubelike CT scanner. Your head is outside scanner during the entire time. The examination room will most likely be cool.
You will be asked to lie down still and hold your breath for few seconds while the images are taken. The lab technician who operates the scanner from a room next door, can see and can even talk to you the whole time. The whole procedure should take close to 10 – 15 minutes.
After the Procedure
A coronary calcium scan is a simple procedure. You do not have to take any special precautions after the test. You can leave your home as soon as the test procedure is completed. You can continue your regular activities like before.
Heart Scan: Results
The Agatston score determines the calcium density and deposit in your heart’s arteries.
- A zero score means your heart is at no risk of heart diseases, and you can resume your daily life activities without any further procedure.
- A higher score represents higher calcium deposits in your arteries and the risk factors associated thereby. A 100 to 300 score is usually defined as a moderate calcium plaque deposit, and the chances of heart diseases are higher in this case, probably within the upcoming three to five years.
- A score higher than 300 is considered severe and harmful, and the risk of heart attack is higher.
- If the results indicate a lower calcium plaque level, you are good to resume your lifestyle, and your doctor may not need you to undergo any further procedures.
- Your doctor may advise you to make changes in your diet and lifestyle if your calcium deposit score is moderate.
- If your score is higher, your doctor may require you to take additional tests to assess your health condition better and suggest an appropriate treatment plan.
The risks associated with coronary calcium scans are generally minimal but cannot be ruled out altogether.
- You may need to be wary of radiation exposure. The specialized X-ray technology exposes you to radiation, but it is moderate and usually does not pose any risk.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often should I undergo a coronary calcium scan?
You do not have to go through a coronary calcium scan frequently. A heart scan once every ten years is enough to assess your heart condition.
Will I be admitted to the hospital?
You do not need to be admitted to the hospital. A heart scan is a simple procedure, and you can go home immediately after the test.
Can I exercise with a high calcium score?
You can exercise even with high levels of calcium deposits in your arteries. However, maintain moderate levels to avoid complications.
Should I stop any medications?
Your doctor may advise you stop taking certain medications only if there is a need to do so.
Should I fast before the test?
Your doctor will suggest any dietary changes if he feels the need.
Your results will arrive within a few days after the test. After carefully evaluating your test results, your doctor will either conclude that you are of sound health or suggest other tests to understand your condition better. Your doctor may also advise lifestyle changes to deal with the calcium deposits in your arteries. Your doctor may recommend follow-up tests like coronary catheterization or stress tests.