Know your diagnostic tools: coronary calcium scan



What is a coronary calcium scan?

A coronary calcium scan is a diagnostic tool that looks for the calcium deposits in the walls arteries of the heart.

Why calcium?

Calcium can accumulate on the walls of the arteries leading to calcification. In addition to fatty deposits, calcification is a major component in the formation of plaques in the arteries. These calcifications can lead to obstruction of blood vessels which causes heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular disorders.

Who needs the scan?

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

A coronary calcium scan is most useful for people who are at moderate risk for a heart attack. … People at moderate risk have a 10 to 20 percent chance of having a heart attack within the next 10 years. The coronary calcium scan may help doctors decide who within this group needs treatment.”

How does a calcium scan work?

According to NHLBI, 2 machines can be used to perform calcium scan – the electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) and multidetector computed tomography (MDCT). Both these machines are attached to an x-ray machine to make detailed pictures of your heart. From the pictures, doctors can discern calcifications in the coronary arteries and determine your risk for heart problems in the next 2 to 10 years. The patient must lie quietly for 10 minutes in the scanner machine. Otherwise, the procedure is safe, easy, and pain-free.

Any recent research on calcium scans?

A recent article published in the July issue of Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that coronary calcium scans can predict the likelihood of heart attacks, even in older adults.

“Researchers studied 35,383 adults, aged 40 to 80, in Torrance, CA and Nashville, TN, for an average of 5.8 years after having a coronary artery calcium scan. Among these research volunteers, 3,570 were age 70 or older. In total, 838 deaths were recorded, 320 in women and 518 in men. The study found the overall death risk was higher among those with higher coronary arterial calcium scores.”

Previous studies showed that calcium scans can predict overall death risk in young adults, those with diabetes, those suffering from renal failure, and smokers. This study shows that the scan is effective in measuring overall death risk in the elderly as well.

Calcium scans may currently be the best diagnostic tool that can predict the likelihood of  a heart attack. Knowing the overall death risk of a patient is important. Patients and their doctors can decide on prevention measures that can lower the risk, including diet, medications, interventions, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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