Your doctor will order a coronary calcium scan - also called a "heart" or "cardiac" CT scan - to help determine your level of risk for heart disease and heart attack. Using computed tomography, a blend of X-ray technology and computer processing, the scan is used to look for, and measure, calcified plaque in the arteries of the heart. Calcium deposits in the coronary arteries are strong indicators of cardiac problems, and the early detection of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors can be a potential lifesaver.
Since computed tomography is partially comprised of X-ray technology, it employs ionizing radiation. The amount, however, is relatively small and does not put your long-term health in jeopardy. In addition, imaging technicians minimize the amount of radiation used by employing the following measures:
During some coronary calcium scans, a contrast dye is used to highlight the arteries, veins or other parts of the heart. In rare cases, a patient may be allergic to this dye. When reactions do occur, the side effects are minor - generally including mild hives and itching - and pose no danger to the patient.
The benefits of a cardiac CT scan, in fact, far outweigh the possible side effects, especially when the risk of coronary disease or heart attack is present.
In preparation for a cardiac CT scan, you will need to:
When you arrive for your cardiac CT scan, you will first change into a hospital gown and have your vitals taken. You will then be guided through the following:
After the scan, a cardiovascular radiologist will analyze your results. A report will be delivered to your doctor, who will schedule an appointment to meet and explain the results of your scan in person. Calcium scores are interpreted in the following way:
A cardiac CT scan is not for those with known heart disease. But some patients have passed stress tests and EKGs, only to discover early signs of heart disease or heart attack vulnerability through a cardiac CT scan. The test is able to find calcified plaque well before signs of illness appear, and many doctors use it as a starting point for further, more invasive testing or treatment.
You should ask your doctor about this potentially life-saving procedure if you are between the ages of 40 and 70, and have one of more of the following risk factors:
Memorial Hermann provides coronary calcium scans at many locations in the Greater Houston area. If your doctor has ordered a cardiac CT scan, you can count on one of the region's most trusted health systems by choosing the Memorial Hermann location near you.
To help diagnose certain health problems, a stress test is performed. During a stress test a patient will exercise, usually on a treadmill or stationary bike. During the exercise, tests are performed on the heart to find or determine the severity of coronary artery disease.
If a patient is unable to undergo strenuous exercise, the doctor may use medicine to mimic the effects of a workout by making the heart work harder. While this test can be effective in diagnosing some types of cardiac disease, coronary calcium scans often find evidence of disease before it becomes a health threat.
An EKG, sometimes known as an ECG, is a fast, portable method for monitoring heart activity and detecting cardiac problems. This noninvasive option, however, does not show the calcium deposits that can signal the early stages of heart disease.
A coronary angiogram is a type of X-ray imaging that provides a look at the blood vessels of the heart when symptoms of a heart problem occur, or after a stress test shows potential abnormalities. Doctors may also open clogged arteries during the procedure. This type of cardiac catheterization is usually only performed when noninvasive resources have been exhausted. In contrast, cardiac CT scans are noninvasive, provide results in the earliest stages of disease and carry fewer risk factors.
The affiliated radiologists at Memorial Hermann ensure a high level of accuracy in heart CT scans for our patients, and our hospitals are equipped with advanced, cutting-edge technology.
Schedule your Cardiac CT scan appointment at a convenient Memorial Hermann location near you by calling (877) 704-8700.