What is a coronary calcium score?

A coronary calcium score is a noninvasive way to determine a person's cardiac risk. The coronary calcium score is used to measure the need for further cardiac testing.

A coronary calcium score is a test result that can give your physician information about your risk for heart disease. A coronary calcium scan is performed through a CT scan, which uses x-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional images of your coronary arteries—the arteries that supply the heart with blood. The CT scan detects calcium deposits in the arteries, which show up as white specks on the image.

Calcium—along with fat, cholesterol and other substances—is a component of plaque, a material that can build up in the artery walls. This build up of plaque is called atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” and is the cause of coronary artery disease. The more plaque one has, the higher the coronary calcium score. A coronary calcium score can help predict a patient’s likelihood of suffering a heart attack from coronary artery disease within the next five years or so.

The Framingham Risk Score is a common method for assessing cardiovascular disease risk that can be calculated by a physician. The Framingham Risk Score looks at risk factors, such as cholesterol levels, smoking and blood pressure, to estimate a person’s 10-year risk for cardiovascular disease. It is based on findings from the Framingham Heart Study, a research study that has been ongoing for more than 60 years.

A Framingham Risk Score accurately identifies who is at low or high risk for heart disease. A coronary calcium score does not further aid prediction in these cases. However, patients who are identified to be at moderate risk by the Framingham Risk Score may be able to have their risk more accurately measured by the addition of a coronary calcium score. If your coronary calcium score is 0 you are at low risk, but if your coronary calcium score is high, you are at high risk.

Coronary calcium scoring is a test that is performed on people without symptoms to assess their future risk. It is not generally used for patients with symptoms. Also, it is not a test that is generally repeated, as the first coronary calcium score tells your doctor what your risk is for the next five or 10 years.

The CT coronary calcium score is used to diagnose early heart disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.