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Cardiac Calcium Scoring
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s state-of- the-art cardiac calcium scoring services allow physicians and specialists to make accurate diagnoses of coronary artery disease and prescribe targeted, effective treatments.
Our radiology team performs more than 800,000 inpatient and outpatient exams every year. We specialize in advanced technologies and the latest clinical innovations in today’s changing field of medical imaging.
Expert Diagnosis of Atherosclerosis
Cardiac calcium scoring is a type of high-resolution computed tomography (CT) that allows doctors to obtain images of the inside of the body, specifically the heart. A cardiac CT scan for calcium scoring images the coronary arteries to determine the presence, location, and extent of calcified plaque. Calcification of the coronary arteries is a marker for the presence of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD).
UT Southwestern specialists are highly trained and experienced in conducting and evaluating cardiac CT scans. Our CT services include advanced imaging tools, many of which are not available at other medical facilities.
Physicians might suggest that a patient undergo cardiac calcium scoring if the patient has heart disease risk factors, such as:
- Family history of heart disease
- High cholesterol
The findings from a cardiac CT scan are relayed to a patient as a cardiac score, which is compared with published data about scores for people of similar age and the same gender to determine a percentile ranking. A second score, the volume score, is sensitive to the size of the lesion and helpful when performing comparisons with a follow-up examination.
The scores and percentile rankings are used to help physicians better evaluate their patients’ risk of developing cardiac events, even – and especially – if the patient does not have clinical symptoms. While the cardiac calcium score does not correspond directly to narrowing in the arteries, it does have a correlation with the amount of coronary atherosclerosis present.
Cardiac calcium scoring can also be helpful to track the progression of disease.
Cardiac Calcium Scoring: What to Expect
During the exam, the patient lies on the CT table. Electrodes are attached to the patient’s chest and an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine that records the electrical activity of the heart, which makes it possible to record CT scans when the heart isn’t actively contracting.
The scanner rotates around the patient as the table passes through it. Depending on the type of CT performed, the scanner might make several passes. Patients are asked to hold their breath for approximately 10 to 20 seconds while images are recorded.
The entire test takes about 10 minutes.
A UT Southwestern radiologist will interpret the exam, and the results will be provided to both the patient and his or her designated physician.
It is important to note that while the CT scan itself is a painless exam, it does involve exposure to a small dose of radiation. A high calcium score can lead to other diagnostic tests for heart disease, which might or might not provide results with clinical value and which can be associated with side effects. However, the benefits of an accurate and early diagnosis far outweigh the risk.
Women who are or might be pregnant should inform their physicians and CT technologists. In general, CT scanning is not recommended for pregnant women unless medically necessary, because of the potential risk to the baby.