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Heart disease and the heart CT scan

EBCT (electron-beam computed tomography), also called calcium-score screening heart scan, is a test used to detect calcium deposits found in atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries of heart disease patients. Some experts believe state-of-the-art computerised tomography (CT) methods, such as this one, are an effective way to detect coronary calcification from atherosclerosis, before symptoms develop.

A cardiologist may use the calcium-score screening heart scan to evaluate risk for future coronary artery disease.

Because there are certain forms of coronary disease, such as "soft plaque" atherosclerosis, that escape detection during this CT scan, it is important to remember this test is not absolute in predicting your risk of a life-threatening event, such as a heart attack.

How should I prepare for a heart CT scan?

You may continue to take any prescribed medicines but should avoid caffeine and smoking for four hours before the test. CT scanners use X-rays. For your safety, the amount of radiation exposure is kept to a minimum. But, because X-rays can harm a developing foetus, this procedure is not recommended if you are pregnant. Tell your technician, who will perform the scan, and your doctor if you are:

What can I expect during a heart CT scan?

During the CT scan of your heart:

  • You will change into a hospital gown. The nurse will record your height, weight, and blood pressure. He or she may take a blood sample for a lipid (blood fats) analysis.
  • You will lie on a special scanning table.
  • The technician will clean three small areas of your chest and place small, sticky electrode patches on these areas. Men may expect to have their chest partially shaved to help the electrodes stick. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (ECG) monitor, which charts your heart's electrical activity during the test.
  • During the scan, you will feel the table move inside a doughnut-shaped scanner. The high-speed CT scan captures multiple images, synchronised with your heartbeat.
  • A sophisticated computer programme, guided by the cardiovascular radiologist, analyses the images for presence of calcification within the coronary arteries. Absence of calcium is considered a "negative" exam. But, it does not exclude the presence of "soft" non-calcified plaque. If calcium is present, the computer will create a calcium "score" that estimates the extent of coronary artery disease.
  • The calcium-score screening heart scan takes only a few minutes.

What happens after a heart CT scan?

You may continue all normal activities and eat as usual after the heart CT scan.

The results of the scan will be reviewed. The following information will be obtained:

  • The number and density of calcified coronary plaques in the coronary arteries.
  • Calcium score.

Your heart CT scan results will be examined and reviewed by a team of cardiovascular specialists, which may include a cardiovascular radiologist and a preventive cardiologist. The team will evaluate the calcium score, along with other risk factor measurements (risk factor evaluation, blood pressure, lipid analysis), to determine your risk of future coronary artery disease. The team will also make recommendations regarding your lifestyle, medications, or additional cardiac testing.

You and your doctor will receive the full report outlining your risk assessment and follow-up recommendations. Ask your doctor if you have any questions about the calcium-score screening heart scan.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 22, 2016

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