Buildup of calcium, or calcifications, are a sign of atherosclerosis or ischemic heart disease.
A coronary calcium scan may be performed in a medical imaging facility or hospital. The test does not use contrast dye and will take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. A coronary calcium scan uses a special scanner such as an electron beam CT or a multidetector CT (MDCT) machine. An MDCT machine is a much faster CT scanner that makes high-quality pictures of the beating heart. A coronary calcium scan will determine an Agatston score that reflects the amount of calcium found in your coronary arteries. A score of zero is normal. In general, the higher your score, the more likely you are to have heart disease. If your score is high, your doctor may recommend more tests.
A coronary calcium scan has few risks. There is a slight risk of cancer, particularly in people younger than 40 years old. However, the amount of radiation from one test is similar to the amount of radiation you are naturally exposed to over one year. Talk to your doctor and the technicians performing the test about whether you are or could be pregnant. If the test is not urgent, they may have you wait to do the test until after your pregnancy. If it is urgent, the technicians will take extra steps to protect your baby during this test.
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The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.