Coronary Calcium Scoring- Understanding How It’s Performed and Is It Right for You

By Ron Swanger, MD, RDC radiologist

What is a CT Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring exam?
A CT coronary artery calcium scoring, also known more simply as a CT heart scan or a CorCal, has become extremely popular over the past several years. The exam is painless and quick, with the scan taking about 5 minutes to complete.

What you can expect during your exam?
Technologists attach ECG leads to the patient’s chest to coordinate image acquisition with heartbeat to reduce image motion during heart contractions, which can interfere with the quality of the images. Once the images of the heart are complete, you’re able to get dressed and carry on with your day and the images are sent to the workstation for analysis. The radiologist reviews the images and will highlight each coronary vessel for analysis. Then the radiologist will utilize computer software that will calculate the density of the calcium and measure how much calcified plaque exists in the vessels. The software creates a separate score for each vessel. When available, the software will also provide comparative analysis against your reference population. For example, your calcium score of 128.7 puts you in the 75th percentile for patients of similar sex and age.

How exactly does the radiologist score this exam?
Check out this video of an actual case being examined and scored by RDC radiologist, Dr. Swanger.

What are the benefits of knowing your Coronary Calcium Score?
The critical thing to know is that the amount of coronary artery calcium discovered correlates very closely with the amount of soft cholesterol plaque in the vessels. Calcified plaque is there for life, but soft plaque can be stabilized and potentially reversed. Unstable soft plaque can come loose and travel through the vessel  and become lodged in the narrowing point of the vessel, leading to a blockage, which ultimately can cause a heart attack. Now here is where medicine comes in. Over the past several decades, there have been tremendous advancements in cardiac medicine. When I was a kid, people either had cardiac bypass surgery or died. Today, we have all kinds of medicines available to treat cardiac disease, as well as prevent it. Statins are a class of medicine that decrease cholesterol, reduce new plaque formation, and stabilize and sometimes reverse soft plaque buildup. It’s truly a massive advancement in medical treatment of heart disease. The medicine actually prevents heart attacks. So, by knowing where your levels stand, you may be able to prevent future heart health issues and take a proactive and preventative approach to your own health care.

Does insurance cover this?
Most insurers do not currently cover CT coronary artery calcium score exams, but at Reno Diagnostic Centers, we offer this exam for $99. You need an order from your doctor, but the rest you can leave to us.

Who should get this exam?
If you are 50 years of age or older (male and female), or have a strong family history of cardiac disease, this highly effective exam is something you should seriously consider.