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Do I Need a Heart Scan to Check My Calcium Score?

Do I Need a Heart Scan to Check My Calcium Score?

A heart scan, officially called a coronary artery calcium (CAC) test, is the gold standard for checking on your heart health. This specialized CT scan looks for calcium deposits in the arteries and gives you a score that can help determine your risk for heart attack or stroke, and the need to start any treatment or medication like statins. A CAC test can also uncover coronary artery disease before you have any symptoms.

Too much buildup of calcium, along with fats and other substances, is called plaque and can narrow the arteries and reduce blood flow to the heart. A calcium score of zero means none was found, and you have a low risk of having a heart attack in the future. But if the scan does detect calcium, the higher the score, the higher your risk of heart disease.

  • Anything above zero means there is some evidence of coronary artery disease
  • 100-300 means moderate plaque deposits and a relatively high risk of a heart attack or other heart disease over the next 3-5 years.
  • Over 300 points to more extensive disease and an even higher heart attack risk.

A CAC test isn’t for everyone. Generally, it could be beneficial if you’re between ages 40 and 70 and at increased risk for heart disease but don’t have symptoms. You’re at an increased risk if:

  • You have a family history of coronary heart disease
  • You use – or have used – tobacco products
  • You have a history of high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure
  • You have obesity, with a body mass index of 30 or higher
  • You’re younger than 40 but high cholesterol runs in your family

It’s also important to note that a CAC test isn’t one you’d have done annually, especially if your previous results weren’t normal. Some people who have had a normal score may opt to have it checked again every 3-5 years to confirm their risk is still low.

Talk to your provider about your risks and if a CAC test could be an option for you. They may recommend other ways to keep tabs on your heart health, like regular blood pressure checks and certain blood tests.