Since I have several risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, my doctor recommended that I have a CT heart scan. While I had heard of a CT heart scan, I was not really familiar with exactly what a CT heart scan was or what benefit it provided.
What is it? Was it expensive? Invasive? What does it show? How will the results help me and my doctor? In other words, why should I have this test? Inquiring Mary wanted to know!
What is a CT heart scan?*
Simply put, a CT heart scan (also referred to as “computed tomography”) combines multiple X-ray images together with the use of a computer. The scan does not require you to have an IV. The result is a “picture” that provides your doctor with a very detailed view of your heart, arteries, pulmonary veins, coronary circulation, etc. Because the view is so detailed, the scan is able to show your doctor the amount of calcium deposits (plaque), if any, which are in or around your heart. The test is advertised as simple, quick, painless, and non-invasive. Since the CT heart scan can detect calcified blockages in the arteries (from atherosclerosis) before symptoms prevent themselves, it can be an excellent preventative diagnostic tool. As with most diseases, early detection and treatment can impact the long-term outcome of disease progression. Heart disease lends itself particularly well to treatment when detected early.
Research indicates that the coronary calcium scores provided by the CT heart scan are better in terms of predicting risk for heart disease than other diagnostic measurements, including HDL/LDL and total cholesterol count. The test score also provides a measurable, trackable risk index. A calcium score of zero indicates that you have no measurable calcium buildup in your arteries and therefore a low 5-year risk for heart disease. A higher score would indicate an increase in the risk level of a cardiac event.
It should be noted that the CT heart scan only detects calcified plaque, which is an indicator of heart disease. It will not detect soft plaque (non-calcified deposits). Soft plaque is also an indicator of heart disease.