Cardiac scoring (or coronary artery calcium scoring) is a noninvasive, painless screening of the heart for calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the heart. As calcium deposits build up, the blood vessels narrow, allowing less blood and oxygen to the heart. Coronary calcium can develop as early as the second decade of life. Although it is more common in advanced age, coronary calcium is not an inevitable part of aging. Calcium deposits can be absent in normal vessel walls, regardless of age.
Cardiac scoring is performed in only 20 seconds on a multislice computed tomography (CT) scanner and is extremely accurate in detecting the presence, extent and severity of hard plaque burden within the coronary arteries. Hard plaque is a known indicator of coronary artery disease (CAD). Prior to advancements in CT scanning, it was extremely difficult to detect the very small calcium deposits that form in the early stages of heart disease. However, with multislice CT scanning, even miniscule calcium deposits can be detected easily.
Why is getting a cardiac score important?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) or atherosclerosis is the #1 cause of death of both men and women, claiming more than 500,000 lives each year. More than 400 people under age 65 die each day from cardiac events (i.e., death, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and stroke) related to CAD, many without prior symptoms or warning. Typically, patients are diagnosed with CAD when they have already shown symptoms (eg, chest pain, fatigue), responded abnormally to stress testing, or undergone cardiac angiography. This means that the opportunity for prevention is lost and the patient may have already suffered irreversible consequences or a cardiac event.
Cardiac scoring can detect coronary calcium in its early stages. Early detection allows for positive lifestyle changes to be made that will help prevent or minimize further progression of CAD or cardiac events. Currently, preventive therapies for heart disease include blood pressure and lipid control, smoking cessation, diet and regular exercise. The use of statins to reduce blood cholesterol has been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack by one third.
Who should have cardiac scoring?
Cardiac scoring is recommended for generally healthy, asymptomatic males over age 45 and females over age 55 who are at risk for CAD. Individuals with a strong family history of heart disease may want to undergo cardiac scoring as early as age 35 or 45. The following are major risk factors for CAD:
- Family history of coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- History of smoking
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High level of stress
Cardiac scoring is not recommended for persons with cardiac stents, who have had open heart surgery, arrhythmias or with relative resting tachycardia (heart rate greater than 80 beats per minute). A high or irregular heart rate makes ECG gating of the heart difficult, resulting in poor image quality. Patients who have any of these are encouraged to consult with their cardiologist to determine if cardiac scoring is right for them.
Patients that do not have a risk factor and are under the age of 40 should discuss the CT heart score with their physician, to weigh the risk vs. benefit of radiation exposure during the test.
How does cardiac scoring work?
During the cardiac scoring procedure, the patient is asked to lie on the table of the CT scanner. This tabletop moves the patient’s body through the CT scanner’s gantry which houses an x-ray tube and detectors. The tube rotates around the patient as x-rays pass through the body to the detectors, where thousands of x-ray measurements are recorded. Next, the computer processes this information and displays the corresponding images on a computer screen. This imaging technique avoids any overlap of organs or tissues. CT stands for computed tomography, a process by which a digital picture is made by a computer after low-dose x-rays record a slice or cross section of the body. A CT scanner is a diagnostic tool which, for cardiac scoring, allows visualization of the heart and its internal structures. The word "slice" is often used to explain the images taken of patient anatomy because they are similar to a single slice of bread taken from a whole loaf.
Our multislice scanners can capture these images of the heart during a single breath-hold, which means less stress and discomfort for the patient and a faster examination time. The cardiac scoring procedure takes only five minutes because the BrightSpeed Plus CT scanner can take eight thin slices of the heart per second. This high scanning speed allows for clearer, sharper images with fewer artifacts (false images due to blurring) caused by movement of the body.
What does a cardiac score mean?
A cardiac score can range from zero to several thousand and is based on the amount of calcification detected in the coronary arteries. The more calcium that is seen in the coronary arteries, the greater the score. This score is an indicator of your level of hard plaque burden. A very low score means that there is virtually no obstructive disease in the coronary arteries, whereas a high score indicates that the level of hard plaque burden is extensive and the risk of a future cardiac event is significant.
We advise patients to not exercise, drink caffeine or smoke four hours prior to the exam in order to keep the heart rate as low as possible.
Mosaic Life Care offers the study for $50, which includes the radiologist “reading” fee.
National Heart Health Accredited Location
Mosaic Life Care is now a National Heart Health accredited location. Regardless of the outcome of your cardiac scoring test, you may have questions about what your score indicates, how you can improve your health and how to prevent illness or disease from affecting your life and finances.
To help answer these questions, you are invited to sign up for a free, medical information website that allows you to view presentations from doctors and medical experts on heart disease and all other aspects of health.
To take advantage of this free healthcare information and attend presentations and interactive discussions on heart health and the prevention of heart attacks, please visit www.nationalhearthealth.org. Patients have found these to be quite helpful and hopefully had fun with them as well.
Find out more information
To request more information about cardiac scoring and the services we provide, please complete the form below and one of our caregivers will be happy to follow up with you using the info you provide.