UC Irvine Health offers heart scans to people who have risk factors for heart disease.
Risk factors typically include:
- Age 40 or greater if male
- Age 50 or greater if female
- Family history of premature heart disease in a first-degree relative (under 55 years of age if relative is male, under 65 years of age if relative is female)
- High blood pressure
- High total "bad" cholesterol (LDL) or low levels of "good" cholesterol (HDL)
- Pre-diabetes or diabetes
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight or obese
People with two or more of these risk factors, or high levels of one risk factor, typically have a greater likelihood of showing significant levels of coronary calcium.
Coronary heart disease is often not discovered until significant blockages are present and symptoms appear. When this happens, the disease is harder to cure and the likelihood of recurrence is greater. A coronary calcium scan identifies the risk for heart disease early enough to treat it effectively.
Simple, noninvasive test
A heart scan is done with a newer generation computed tomography (CT) scanner. It is noninvasive, and no dyes or injections are needed. The CT scan delivers a very low dose of radiation, similar to a mammogram or long-distance airplane flight. The entire test takes no more than 10 minutes.
As Orange County's only university medical center, our experts in preventive cardiology and cardiac imaging have access to the latest technology, diagnostic methods and treatments to bring you high-quality, personalized care. Our cardiolovascular physicians routinely conduct research and clinical trials, and they use that knowledge to give you the best care available.
The coronary calcium CT scan is a painless, noninvasive X-ray of the heart. It is commonly referred to as a "mammogram of the heart."
Before and during the test
When you arrive, you will be directed to the scanner. EKG leads will be placed on your chest. This is so images taken of your heart can be taken in time with your heartbeat to produce a clear, sharp picture.
During the test, you will be asked to lie still in a doughnut-shaped scanner for about 10 minutes while multiple pictures of your heart are taken.
In most cases, test results are available within 24 hours. A copy of your report is automatically sent to your primary care physician.
If no calcium is found, the test is considered negative. This does not mean that there could not be soft, non-calcified plaque in your arteries. The absence of coronary calcium indicates a very low risk for developing heart attacks for at least the next 10 to 15 years.
If calcium is found, a score is generated to estimate the extent of coronary artery disease.
In general, the more coronary calcium present, the greater the amount of atherosclerosis is present. The more atherosclerosis you have, the greater your risk of developing a heart attack or other heart disease.
After the test
Your physician will receive a copy of your test results. Together, you can determine what your next steps should be if your scans show calcium.
If your test shows that you have coronary artery disease and you do not have a cardiologist, our UC Irvine Health Preventive Cardiology & Cholesterol Management Program physicians can work with you to:
- Evaluate you for additional risk factors
- Perform glucose and lipid testing
- Create a treatment plan, which may include medications and risk factor reduction, such as dietary changes and quitting smoking
After the test, you will be able to resume your normal diet and activities.