A calcium scan is a noninvasive computerized tomography (CT) scan that measures calcium build-up in your artery walls. The CT scans your heart and the measurement of calcification produces a score that shows the level of calcium in your heart and the risk of having a sudden cardiac event, such as a heart attack.
The only normal calcium score is zero. “Healthy individuals should have no calcium in their heart,” Johnathan Hadley, M.D., a board-certified radiologist at EAMC explains. “If you have any calcium in your heart; you have coronary disease. Unlike guessing what your risk of heart disease is based on family history or symptoms, by looking at your heart for the presence of calcium, we can tell you more definitively if you are at risk for heart attack. Based on your calcium score, we can determine whether you are low, intermediate or high risk for a future cardiac event.
“For years, doctors have been relying on a list of risk factors that can increase the development of heart disease: smoking, being overweight, having high cholesterol, having high blood pressure or being diabetic,” Dr. Hadley says. “Based on those findings you would be classified as low, intermediate, or high risk for heart attack. Unfortunately, most of the people who go on to have heart attacks are actually the people who are in the intermediate risk group. However, with calcium scoring, that is not the case. The risk of heart attack for individuals who score low or intermediate calcium scores is very low compared to those who are in the high-risk group. Almost 90 percent of all heart events happen to the high-risk group, which allows us to identify people who actually need to be monitored and treated.”
Doctors recommend that if you are otherwise healthy, a calcium screening test should be performed at age 40 for men and 45 for women. If your score is zero, generally, you do not need to be tested again for five years.
“Even for people who have good health, this is a safe, noninvasive test (much like a screening mammogram) that can provide more information about your heart health,” Dr. Hadley states.
“When people see my scar, they ask about my heart surgery and what my symptoms were prior to my operation,” Rhonda Cescutti explains. Rhonda is an employee at EAMC and works with cardiologists. She had a calcium scoring test in September, and a few weeks later underwent open-heart surgery. “I explain to those who ask about my surgery that I had no symptoms. If I had not had a calcium test, I might have had a heart attack before I knew something was wrong.
“When I began working for EAMC, Kevin Ryan, M.D. became my cardiologist,” Rhonda says. “After seeing the results of my calcium screening in September, Dr. Ryan ordered a stress echocardiogram and based on those results, he performed a cardiac catheterization.”
A few days later, Barry Crowe, M.D., performed open-heart surgery on Rhonda to bypass the two diseased arteries in her heart. Her surgery was successful and she is currently a patient in Cardiac Rehab at EAMC.
“During the month of September, EAMC was offering calcium scoring at a discounted rate, and one of my co-workers told me I should get the test,” Rhonda remembers. “Something serious could have happened had I not had my surgery when I did. I’m very thankful to my co-workers who encouraged me to have the test done.”
Auburn Diagnostic Imaging (ADI), a service of EAMC, is equipped with the most advanced digital technology and staffed with board-certified radiologists to perform calcium scans. This test is not covered by insurance in most states, including Alabama and Georgia. However, during the month of February, ADI is offering calcium scans at 50 percent off for any scans scheduled between Feb. 1-28. ADI also offers same-day or next-day appointments when possible.