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heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

A coronary artery calcium score can be used following a Heart Health Check to estimate your risk of heart attack.

A coronary artery calcium score uses a CT scan. It measures the amount of calcified plaque (calcium) inside the walls of your heart’s arteries.

Why is the test done? 

Your doctor may refer you for coronary artery calcium scoring following a Heart Health Check. Not everyone needs to have this additional CT scan.  

A Heart Health Check is used to estimate your risk of heart attack or stroke based on any risk factors you may have. These can include raised blood pressure or high cholesterol. These factors are used to calculate a risk score, to estimate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. People can be classified as high, moderate, or low risk. Your doctor will make recommendations about changes to your health behaviours, such as stopping smoking. They may also prescribe medicine to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.  

Based on your Heart Health Check result, your doctor may discuss coronary artery calcium scoring. For some people, this additional CT scan can help you better understand your risk of having a heart attack in the future. 

How is the test done? 

During the test, you lie down flat on a table which will move through a circular scanning machine. The staff performing the scan will tell you to hold your breath at times. The machine monitors your heart rhythm by placing sticky dots and ECG leads on your chest. You won’t need to stay in hospital or take any precautions after the test, and you’ll be able to drive. 

What does the test show? 

A collection of calcium in the walls of your heart’s arteries can mean that there’s a build-up of plaque. This could increase your risk of a heart attack. Your doctor will discuss the results with you and what they mean for your health. 

It’s important to remember that a high coronary artery calcium score does not mean you will have a heart attack– it just means your risk may be higher than someone with a lower calcium score.

Preparing for the test 

Your doctor may tell you to avoid smoking or drinking caffeinated drinks before having the test. Otherwise, there’s nothing you need to do to prepare. If you have questions, it is best to check with your doctor or the centre where you are having your test for specific information about what to do.   

How much does a Heart Health Check and coronary artery calcium scoring cost? 

Since April 2019, Heart Health Checks have been covered by Medicare and are free at practices that bulk bill for this service. However, coronary artery calcium scoring is not covered by Medicare and you will need to pay for this additional test. Your doctor is best placed to help work out if calcium scoring will be useful for you. They can help provide information on where it is available near you and how much it will cost. 

Plain language summary 

Below is a plain language summary of the Heart Foundation’s position statement on the use of coronary artery calcium scoring. The summary has been developed to help people understand: 

•    What is coronary artery calcium scoring 
•    The Heart Foundation’s position statement on coronary artery calcium scoring 
•    What the recommendations mean for people 

For more information about coronary artery calcium scoring, speak to your doctor, nurse or health worker or call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12.

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