Mammogram of the heart
Your heart needs a CT calcium score test
Your CT calcium score test is the mammogram of your heart, a heart health screening
Heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is the leading cause of death of women in the United States. This may be surprising, but you can avoid becoming a statistic with early detection of heart issues. By knowing your personal risks and managing them early, you can have a much longer and healthier “heart attack-free” life.
Approximately 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms. This makes early heart health screening all the more important. One critical cardiac test is called a CT calcium score. Think of it as the “mammogram of the heart.”
What does a CT calcium score test measure?
A CT (computed tomography) calcium score test measures the amount of calcium buildup in your coronary arteries. Your coronary arteries are the ones that supply your heart with essential oxygen and nutrients. Any blockage in these arteries can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), which is one type of heart disease.
A CT calcium score test measures narrowing of your coronary arteries due to a buildup of plaque. This plaque buildup is known as atherosclerosis or ischemic heart disease. We do not want that to go unchecked—especially in your coronary arteries. It is vitally important that your arteries remain unblocked and flexible for optimal health. This heart health screening is essential.
This is where the calcium comes in. We know that calcium is great for your bones and teeth. Calcium is even great for all of your muscles—including heart muscle—because it helps them do their jobs contracting and relaxing. But, calcium is not so great when it builds up in plaque inside your coronary arteries.
Over time, plaque naturally builds up in arteries and calcifies. What we want is a minimal amount of plaque and calcium building up. The CT calcium score test measures these calcium-containing “plaques” to give you a life-saving early warning. Just like a mammogram.
What is a CT calcium score test?
Your doctor can order a CT scan to measure the amount of calcium in the plaques inside your coronary arteries. The test usually takes about 15 minutes and is often done in a hospital or medical imaging facility. It uses a special scanner that takes high-quality pictures of your heart and takes measurements of calcium buildup. Ideally, your coronary artery calcium score (CACS) is as low as possible because more calcium means you have a higher risk of heart disease.
This CT calcium score test is very safe, but it does expose you to about one year’s worth of radiation in those few minutes. Talk to your doctor and the medical technologist doing the test if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. They will discuss ways to protect your baby.
This heart health screening test can—and should—be done even if you have no symptoms of heart disease. When your doctor gets the results, she will look at your CACS along with other heart disease risk factors (age, sex, ethnicity, diabetes, tobacco use, family history, cholesterol level, blood pressure, certain medications). Your doctor will use all of this information to predict your personal risk of heart issues (like a heart attack).
What happens if I have a higher risk of heart disease?
Depending on your risk level and diagnosis, your doctor will come up with a treatment plan for you. She may recommend certain lifestyle changes. She may suggest some dietary changes for heart-healthy eating. Note that changing the amount or source of calcium you eat won’t affect your CACS. Eating more plants like nuts, legumes, and colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as heart-healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil will help to reduce your risk of heart disease and not be a statistic.
Other lifestyle factors that can help boost your heart health are to exercise, get better sleep, and manage your stress.
Depending on your overall risk, it’s possible that your doctor may also recommend some medications to help further prevent future heart issues, like heart attacks.
Just as you get mammograms to detect your risk of breast cancer before it becomes a problem, the CT calcium score test detects your risk of heart disease before it becomes a problem. This is a wonderful heart health screening method.
Talk to your doctor about your heart health and whether it’s time for your CT calcium score test. Or, you can contact us at the Tri-County Heart Clinic and set up your appointment by calling 352-717-0220 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make your appointment today!
Alvarez, N. 2019. Heels vs. ties: Living with your #1 threat. RI-AL Consulting.
DuBose, C. O., Youngman, K., & Barymon, D. (2019). Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography and Calcium Scoring. Radiologic technology, 90(3), 259CT–275CT.
Karnib, S., & Chinnaiyan, K. M. (2019). Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography: Enhancing Risk Stratification and Diagnosis of Cardiovascular Disease in Women. Current treatment options in cardiovascular medicine, 21(10), 62. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11936-019-0760-1
Kerut, E. K., Hall, M. E., Turner, M. C., & McMullan, M. R. (2018). Coronary risk assessment using traditional risk factors with CT coronary artery calcium scoring in clinical practice. Echocardiography (Mount Kisco, N.Y.), 35(8), 1216–1222. https://doi.org/10.1111/echo.14091
NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Cardiac CT Scan. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cardiac-ct-scan
NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Coronary Calcium Scan. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-calcium-scan
Shekar, C., & Budoff, M. (2018). Calcification of the heart: mechanisms and therapeutic avenues. Expert review of cardiovascular therapy, 16(7), 527–536. https://doi.org/10.1080/14779072.2018.1484282