Do you know your calcium score?

If you have been told you have risk factors for heart disease, you might consider finding out your calcium score.

So what does that mean exactly? Your calcium score reflects whether you have calcium deposits in your major blood vessels to your heart called coronary arteries. The lower your score, the less likely you are to have major blockages in your coronary arteries or to have a heart attack.

You can determine your calcium score by having a non-invasive computed tomography (CT) or cardiac CT scan. The CT scan takes pictures of the heart in thin sections. It helps your cardiologist see if the coronary arteries that provide blood flow to your heart muscle contain calcium. When cholesterol begins to deposit in the coronary arteries and blockages begin, calcium is deposited in the vessel wall allowing early detection by CT scanning.

“Calcium scans can provide early evidence that the process of hardening of the arteries is beginning, giving time to begin preventative therapy and reduce a patient’s risk of future heart attack,” says Dr. Alan Brown, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“The test is low in radiation, inexpensive and can be done in 10 minutes. Often the CT scan provides critical information about an individual’s risk, even when there are no symptoms,” he says.

A coronary calcium scan is not advised as a routine screening for coronary heart disease. It is recommended for patients with a family history or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, tobacco use or elevated cholesterol. It can find heart disease at an earlier stage and assist your cardiologist in determining severity and an approach for treatment.

For more information on whether you should consider finding out your calcium score, ask your cardiologist or primary care physician.