A quick overview of what we’ll cover in this blog:
- How calcium affects the heart
- What a coronary artery calcium test is and why you should get one
If someone asked if you knew your coronary artery calcium score off the top of your head, could you answer? Or would you look at them and say “what’s a coronary artery calcium score?”
If you wouldn’t be able to answer, you’re not alone. A coronary artery calcium (CAC) can help people better understand their risk of heart disease and the best treatment options.
So if you’ve never heard of the coronary artery calcium test, don’t worry! We’ll break it down for you and highlight why you may want to get a test done today.
First, why test for calcium in arteries?
Testing for calcium can actually help you and your doctor better understand your risk of heart disease.
You’re probably thinking: calcium? Isn’t that for bones? Well, yes. Calcium does play a role in supporting bone and tooth health. Calcium is also very tightly regulated in the blood and plays an important role in muscle control.
However, calcium can build up in arteries. This is a sign of a dangerous underlying condition: heart disease. Specifically, these deposits of calcium (called calcifications) can be a sign that soft plaque is building up in your arteries. Soft plaque is a waxy substance made up of fat and cholesterol that builds up in your arteries and leads to heart attack and stroke. Aside from the arteries, calcium can build up anywhere there is ongoing inflammation, including tendons or ligaments. The buildup of calcium acts as a repair mechanism when damage occurs.
What is a coronary artery calcium test?
A coronary artery test is used to measure calcification in arteries that supply the heart. It is usually done with a CT imaging scan. A single test can produce multiple images of the heart and coronary arteries.
While not all insurance plans cover this test, it is widely available and reasonably priced (ranging from around $100 to $400). Getting a test done will help decide how aggressive you should be with your prevention goals, and depending on your score and other metrics, you might not have to do another coronary artery calcium test for 10+ years (or possibly ever).
What does a coronary artery calcium test score mean?
A coronary artery calcium score is a measure of how much calcification is present in your arteries. After a test, you are given a score that can range from 0 to over 400. Anything above zero means you have calcification, which means damage has already occurred or that you might be at a higher risk of heart disease.
Essentially, a coronary artery calcium test can help you understand your risk of heart disease and determine if you need to be more aggressive in your care. For example, a coronary artery calcium test can help people better decide if newer treatments are needed to prevent complications like heart attacks and strokes.
Ideally, you want to have a score of zero, which means the scan detected no calcification. However, a score of zero does not mean zero risk. It simply means you have a lower risk of experiencing cardiovascular events like a heart attack.
Should you have a coronary artery calcium test?
You can think of a coronary artery calcium test as another tool in your disease prevention toolkit. Along with blood work and other tests, a coronary artery calcium test can help you and your doctor better understand your cardiovascular health and make better decisions about treatments or interventions.
The results of a coronary artery calcium test are especially helpful when the finding is unexpected. For example, if you’re under 50, a score of 0 is expected. Anything over 0 is a bit more unexpected and could indicate you have a higher risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends measuring calcification to help certain people understand their cardiovascular health, including managing cholesterol. Specifically, they recommend a coronary artery calcium test in people with an “intermediate risk” of heart disease. This could mean you have several risk factors of developing heart disease, but your doctor may be unsure about starting you on a statin medication.
Fortunately, strategies for treating other cardiovascular conditions can help prevent future damage, including changes to diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits.
To assess your potential risk for heart disease, and get personalized information on how to lower your risk (including potential lifestyle changes and treatment options), get started with a free online assessment.
Note: The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.