Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring: What Does it Involve?

As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, atherosclerotic plaque is made up of a combination of fat, cholesterol, and calcium beneath the inner layer of the arteries. The coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart, and the presence and severity of calcified plaque in these vessels is an indirect way to assess the presence of atherosclerosis. The sudden rupture of one of these plaques can cause a heart attack, which is why it’s crucial to know if an individual has accumulated large amounts of atherosclerosis.

An easy way of accomplishing this is through a cardiac CT scan—with this non-invasive method we obtain information on the level of calcified plaque build-up. If calcified plaque is detected, atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease: CAD) is present. Two-thirds of heart attacks aren’t caused by the narrowing of the coronary artery, but as I mentioned—by plaque rupturing within the artery wall.

With CT scanning we calculate a calcium score, which measures the extent of plaque burden on your arteries. We report 3 pieces of information with the calcium score: 1) your own absolute score 2) your percentile of calcium score, which tells you how you rank in comparison with people of the your age, sex and race, and 3) your estimated “vascular age”; this is an estimation of how healthy (i.e. young) or diseased (i.e. older) your coronary arteries are compared to people with similar backgrounds, and therefore gives you an indication of your relative risk.

Other components of our Heart CT scan screenings include:

Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure measures over 140/90 mm Hg, it is considered to be at a high level. Some people refer to high blood pressure as “the silent killer” because it can cause severe damage on the body with little to no symptoms.  In fact, it can cause strokes, heart disease and damage to your kidneys or eyesight if left untreated.

Fasting Glucose

The fasting glucose test measures your blood sugar level for the presence of early diabetes. While diabetes is a treatable condition, it may not manifest for years, and can cause damage to your heart and vessels without you realizing it.

Framingham Risk Score

The Framingham Risk Score indicates your risk of experiencing a heart attack within ten years, and is based on a combination of factors such as your age, sex, your blood pressure and cholesterol level.

Overall Cardiovascular Risk

This measurement results from the combination of your Framingham Risk Score and calcium score.

Emory’s comprehensive cardiovascular screening is very reasonably priced at $150, and includes all of the components listed above.

If you have any questions about our Heart CT scans, please let me know in the comments.

About Paolo Raggi, MD:

Dr. Raggi specializes in Internal Medicine and Cardiology, and has been with Emory since 2006. His areas of clinical interest include cardiac CT and MRI, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, arteriosclerosis and lipids, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and valvular disease. Dr. Raggi is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and French, and holds Organizational Leadership Memberships at the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Physicians.

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