Heart Scans and Your Coronary Artery Calcium Sco

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Diagnostic Tools, Q&As
Last Reviewed 03/28/2014

Heart Scans and Your Coronary Artery Calcium Score

Do you recommend heart scans to get your coronary artery calcium score and as an early measure to detect heart disease?

Yes, I do recommend heart scans. In fact, I had a CT scan of my own heart years ago and was pleased that my coronary artery calcium score was zero. (A score of zero is best.) The advantage of the heart CT scan is that it's a great, cost-effective, noninvasive way to evaluate hard plaque in the coronary arteries. You may have to travel to find a hospital that performs heart CT scans, and you may have to pay out of pocket (about $500), but it is a worthwhile investment of your time and money if you have concerns about detecting heart disease early.

The limitation of the heart CT scan is that it detects hard plaque only. It will miss soft plaque (which many people have), unless your facility has a 64-slice or 128-slice device. Before the development of the 64/128 slice—which is minimally invasive because it involves IV injection of a radio-opaque dye—only invasive angiography (cardiac catheterization) was able to detect obstructions of the coronary vessels. Many times heart disease is a combination of hard and soft plaque, and only the 65/128 slice can differentiate between the two.

One caveat with all of these scans: You are getting some radiation. My dad died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm and had some heart disease at autopsy. That is why I risked the exposure to check my own heart. I don't send my own patients for heart CT scans unless they have serious risk factors for heart disease or some indication, like a symptom.

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