Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) Scoring
What is coronary artery calcium scoring?
CAC scoring assesses the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD) by providing an overall calcium score. Your calcium score is based on the results from the low dose computed tomography (CT) images of your coronary arteries. The lower your score, the lower your risk of developing symptomatic CAD. Depending on your score, your doctor may make recommendations on lifestyle changes, medications or treatments to reduce your potential risk from CAD.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is a disease that develops when major blood vessels supplying blood to your heart become narrowed or blocked. If the heart is unable to get enough blood, it will lack the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly. This can cause chest pain (angina) or in the case of a complete block, a heart attack. Coronary artery disease can be detected early, before it causes any symptoms by the identification of calcification of the coronary arteries, so called “hardening of the arteries”.
What should I expect?
Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring
What to expect
The test should only take around 10-15 minutes. A radiographer will first position you on the CT exam table, lying flat on your back with your arms above your head. Small metal disks (called ECG electrodes) will then be attached to your chest and to an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine. To attach the electrodes, your cardiac technician will clean the areas on your chest with alcohol wipes. This may feel slightly cold or sting a little but should not damage the skin. The ECG records your hearts electrical activity and co-ordinates x-ray picture timing.
A CAC test is non-invasive and does not require any injections or dyes. The examination table may shift during the scan to capture the required images.
You will be asked to hold your breath for a period of 10 seconds during the scan while the images are being recorded.
NOTE: This test is not rebated through medicare.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why might I have a calcium score?
A calcium score is a way to find out if you have early heart disease before it gets worse. Knowing your risk can allow you and your doctor to make decisions about how to reduce your risk. These may be things such as lifestyle changes or medication. Your doctor may also suggest you have a calcium score if you have one or more potential risk factors for CAD such as family history.
A coronary artery calcium score in many cases de-risks an individual. In cases where a personalised decision needs to be made about treatment, such as starting medication for cholesterol, a CT calcium score can provide very useful information. If the score is 0, it is often possible to avoid active medication therapy for slightly elevated cholesterol.
Even if you are low risk, however, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and monitor your heart health.
When should I have a calcium score?
Anyone can have a calcium score, however usually it is healthy adults aged between 40 and 75 years (over 35 years for Aboriginal or Torres Strait islanders). The majority of people in Australia who have a cardiac event are those that are considered low to intermediate risk. These people usually have only one traditional cardiac risk factor or no risk factors. A calcium score can help reclassify a person’s risk, either up or down, and lead to better cardiac management.
If you are already experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, your doctor may refer you to have a computed tomography coronary angiography (CTCA) instead.
How do I prepare for a calcium score?
- Do not take any stimulants such as tea, coffee, soft drinks or energy drinks for 12 hours before your test
- Do not wear lotions, perfumes or powders around the chest area, and remove any jewellery around your neck or chest
- Wear an outfit on the day to enable you to easily change into a gown from the waist up, such as a shirt or blouse
What happens after the test?
Depending on your referral, one of our cardiologists may discuss the results with you. When the test is complete, your referring doctor will receive a full report.
Is a calcium score safe?
During the test, you will only be exposed to a very minimal amount of radiation. Should you experience any issues on the day, our team are onsite to assist.
This information is of a general nature. If you are concerned about your heart health, discuss this with your local doctor.