A heart scan is a very fast CT scan of the heart. This new technology uses sophisticated software with a sub-second CT scanner to detect small amounts of calcium in the coronary arteries. The test is quick, simple and non-invasive.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in the United States. CAD occurs whenever arteries that carry oxygenated blood to the heart become clogged with plaque. The plaque build-up slows the blood-flow to the heart and increases the risk of myocardial infarction. Patients are usually diagnosed after they develop symptoms and display an abnormal response to invasive testing. Unfortunately, by that time, the atherosclerotic process is advanced and the opportunity for prevention has been missed.
Coronary Artery Calcification Scanning determines very accurately the presence and the severity of coronary artery calcification. Extensive research has determined that the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries is a good predictor of underlying heart disease. A calcium score >400 implies the presence of extensive CAD with a likelihood >90% of at least one significantly obstructed vessel. While calcium is a marker for CAD, it is important to remember that not all plaque is calcified and a negative heart scan does not mean a person is free of heart disease.
Here at St. Joseph’s Imaging Associates, we assess cardiac calcium using General Electric’s Lightspeed VCT 64 slice scanner; the software Vitrea, quantifies the calcified plaque in the calcium score guidelines. Here it is important to note, the clinical significance of a particular score is influenced by a patient’s age and gender. We encourage patients to work with their physicians to determine the significance of their CAD scores and to make changes in the assessment of their risk factors for heart disease.
A heart scan may be useful in evaluating CAD in asymptomatic patients who have one or more risk factors for heart disease. A heart scan is not recommended for patients with known CAD, patients who are pregnant or patients with abnormally fast resting heart beats (tachycardia). In general, most studies have evaluated patients between the ages of 40 and 70. Clinical benefit is unlikely to be substantial in patients above the age of seventy and heart scanning is not recommended for these individuals.