Doctors Use CT Scans As A Screening Tool For Heart Disease

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If you have heart disease, your doctor can assess your risk for future coronary problems by ordering a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the heart -- also known as a coronary calcium scan -- to study your blood vessels. Used to assess heart disease in its early stages, a heart CT scan can detect calcium deposits in the buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the coronary arteries.

A heart scan is a valuable tool for detecting heart disease, especially if you have risk factors that increase the possibility that you will develop the disease. Since the arteries that supply blood to the heart normally do not contain calcium, you may have coronary artery disease (CAD) if the scan detects calcium.

How the Test Works

Prior to the CT scan of your heart, your doctor may order your blood drawn for lipid analysis. Once you are lying on the scanning table, a CT technician will place electrode patches on three areas of your chest. These electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine which monitors the electrical activity of your heart. The technician may also inject you with a contrast agent (a special dye) to help the coronary arteries show up better on the images. It's important not to move during the scan as moving your body can cause the images to blur.

After the CT scan takes several images of your heart, all of which are synchronized with your heartbeat, the images are analyzed for signs of calcification within the coronary arteries. Although the exam is considered negative if no calcium is present, there could be soft noncalcified plaque in your arteries. Consequently, having a heart CT scan is not a full-proof method for predicting your chances of having a heart attack.

If calcium is detected, a computer program calculates a calcium score. The score helps the cardiovascular radiologist estimate the extent of coronary artery disease. A score above 100 means there is a good chance you have heart disease, which increases your risk of having a heart attack.

What the Scan Can Tell Your Doctor

Although the scan itself doesn't take long, once it is completed, a team of cardiovascular specialists will review the results. The doctors will consider other potential risk factors including your blood pressure and lipid analysis. High blood pressure and elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood can lead to damage to the inner lining of coronary arteries.

In addition to a calcium score, a heart CT scan tells doctors how many calcified plaques are present in the coronary arteries. The scan results also report the density of the atherosclerotic plaques for measuring coronary artery calcium. All these factors combined help to determine your risk for future cardiovascular disease. The radiologist will forward a full report to your primary care physician along with any recommendations for treatment or additional cardiac testing. To find out more, contact a company like Kinston Medical Specialists PA.