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Cardiac Calcium Scoring Using Computed Tomography (CT)

Fifty-eight million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, making coronary artery disease (CAD) the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

Did You Know? More Americans die of heart disease than all types of cancer combined.

CAD is most commonly produced by atherosclerosis. Until recently there were no non-invasive studies that could directly evaluate the coronary arteries for the presence of atherosclerotic disease.

Recent advances in multi-detector CT technology can provide detailed three-dimensional images of the beating heart within the timeframe of a single held breath. One of the most promising applications is the realm of coronary imaging. At The Iowa Clinic Medical Imaging we are currently offering two exams to study the coronary arteries, Calcium Scoring and CT Angiography.

What is Calcium Scoring?

The Calcium Scoring exam quantifies the total load of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries based upon the volume and density of calcified plaque. It then compares that score to a large reference population matched to the patient's age and sex. This exam is used as a screening tool in the evaluation of coronary artery disease, and can be used as a valuable tool in conjunction with other clinical risk factors such as family history, cholesterol level, lipid profile, etc., to help the clinician determine how best to manage patients with coronary artery disease.

Who Needs Calcium Scoring?

We believe this technique should be used for individuals considered to be at high-risk for developing heart disease. The risk factors for heart disease include:

  • age:
    • men 40 or older
    • women 45 or older
  • high cholesterol
  • history of smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • family history of heart disease
  • high stress levels
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • diabetes

If one or more of these factors apply to you, we encourage you to talk with your doctor about considering this procedure. Patients who are not good canidates for this screen procdure include those who have had previous cardiovascular treatment or surgery, such as:

  • coronary stinting
  • coronary bypass surgery
  • pacemaker placement
  • valve replacement

What Should I Expect?

The scan itself only takes ten minutes. It does not involve any injections or medications. You will be asked to complete a brief risk factor questionnaire. You will then lie down on the table fully dressed while the technologist places EKG leads on your chest. While the scan is being performed you will hold your breath for a brief period in order to have still pictures. A radiologist from Iowa Clinic Medical Imaging — who specializes in body and cardiovascular imaging — will study the scan and send a report to your physician.

Calcium Scoring is considered a screening test for asymptomatic patients. Unfortunately, most insurance companies do not reimburse for its cost.

What Do The Test Results Mean?

Once your scan is completed, your images will be sent to the radiologist for review. Your physician will receive a report discussing the radiologist's findings, including your cardiac score. Your doctor can recommend the appropriate treatment, including:

  • diet and lifestyle changes
  • medication
  • further testing

There are multiple causes of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease — reflected on the scan as coronary artery calcification — is the most common form of cardiovascular disease.

Screening exams of the heart are not intended to replace your doctor's evaluations, but are provided to give you and your doctor additional information to determine lifestyle changes and treatment options.

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