A coronary calcium scan uses a special type of x-ray test. You’ve probably had an x-ray before at the dentist or for a broken bone. This particular test uses computed tomography, often called a CT scan, which is a type of x-ray that looks at a very thin layer of your body. It takes several images very quickly to create a complete, layered picture of one particular organ or area in the body — in this case, the heart.
A coronary calcium scan uses a CT scan to check for buildup of calcium in plaque on artery walls, specifically the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood to the heart itself). Just as your teeth can have plaque buildup, so can the arteries. Plaque in the arteries makes it difficult for blood to move through them, which can result in chest pain or a heart attack. Having plaque in the coronary arteries is called coronary artery disease.
Because it is such a sensitive test, a coronary calcium scan can tell if there is even a small amount of calcium (and therefore plaque) in the arteries. It’s a great test for people who have medium risk of heart disease.
If you are at high risk for heart disease or have already been diagnosed with it, you should already be seeing your doctor regularly to monitor and manage it — you don’t need to have the test because you already know that there is a problem. If you’re younger than 40, this test may also not be very helpful because younger people do not usually have much calcium buildup.
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