What is a Heart CT Scan (Coronary Calcium Scan)?
One type of heart CT scan, a coronary calcium scan, is an imaging test that measures the levels of calcium in your arteries. Calcium develops in the arteries when cholesterol plaque starts to build up, which is a sign of coronary artery disease that could lead to a heart attack and other health issues.
Using advanced, multidetector CT scanning technology, the RUSH Heart Score CT Scan allows our doctors to examine a detailed, 3D image of your heart to help detect plaque build-up before symptoms occur.
The scan provides your physician with a “heart score,” or calcium score, that tells them how much calcium is in your arteries. The ideal score is zero, meaning the scan did not detect any calcium. The higher the score, the more calcium is present in the arteries and the higher the risk for coronary artery disease.
The scan is fairly quick and simple. It does not involve dyes, medication or preparation and only takes about five minutes to complete. The information you and your physician get from it could help improve your health or even save your life.
RUSH is currently offering the heart CT scan for only $49 out of pocket.
Why is a Heart CT Scan Important?
Up to 35% of people who suffer a heart attack experienced no previous symptoms. This makes the Heart Score a valuable tool for the prevention and early detection of heart disease. And knowing your risk will help put your mind at ease.
You don't need a physician referral for our heart CT scan services if you are 40 years of age or older.
What Can a Heart CT Scan Detect?
The heart CT scan can detect plaque build-up in the coronary arteries. When cholesterol deposits, or plaque, form in the arteries, the blood vessels have difficulty supplying enough of the blood, oxygen and nutrients that the heart muscle needs.
Coronary artery disease happens when the arteries narrow, often due to this plaque build-up. If the narrowing gets too severe, it can cause a blockage. Blood flow to the heart may slow and eventually stop when the artery is fully blocked, resulting in a heart attack.
While the scan is not specifically designed to detect several other conditions, your physician can use your results to better determine your risk for heart disease. Based on the data they collect, they may recommend further testing for many other types of heart abnormalities, including the following:
- Congenital heart disease: Some heart conditions are present at birth, which can lead to health issues in adulthood if they aren’t treated. Detecting these early can help you get care before they cause problems.
- Heart valve defects and diseases: Your heart has four major valves, and their job is to carry blood to and from the heart in the right direction. Defects or diseases of these valves can cause blood to leak in the heart, reduce blood flow or cause a major blockage.
- Tumors or masses in the heart: Cardiac masses or tumors usually don’t cause symptoms until they’ve started to block the flow of blood. Detecting them early improves the chances of successful treatment.
- Problems with the heart's ability to pump: Congestive heart failure happens when the heart can’t pump blood as well as it should. This can lead to blood and fluid backing up in the lungs. While the condition can’t be cured, early treatment can slow the progression.
Who Should Get a Heart CT Scan?
You should consider scheduling a heart CT scan if you are between the ages of 40 and 75, have not previously been diagnosed with heart disease and have at least two of these risk factors:
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physically inactive
RUSH Excellence in Heart CT Scan Services
- Among the best in the nation: RUSH University Medical Center was named among the best in the nation for cardiology and heart surgery care by U.S. News & World Report. RUSH Copley Medical Center is also recognized as a high-performing hospital in heart failure by U.S. News and World Report.
- Quick testing: The scan itself takes just about 5 minutes. But you can expect your appointment to be about 30 minutes long to allow time for check-in and questionnaire completion. You'll receive your results quickly.
- Testing available close to home: RUSH offers heart CT scans at a number of convenient RUSH locations in Chicago, Aurora/Fox Valley and the suburbs.
Heart CT Scan FAQs
Yes, a heart CT scan is worth both the cost and the time. RUSH offers a very affordable out-of-pocket deal for the scan, and it usually takes less than five minutes to complete. The scan can detect heart and vascular issues before they become major problems that require expensive, emergency treatment. But more important than the money, it can save your life. Even if no problems are found, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your heart and vascular system are healthy, and you’ll establish a baseline for future tests.
The heart CT scan usually takes less than five minutes to complete. There will be a short waiting period before you get your results. At RUSH, your results will be transferred to your primary care physician if you have identified one.
There is little preparation involved for a basic heart CT scan. You should ask your physician, as they may advise that you avoid caffeine or smoking before the scan. Once you arrive at RUSH, you will be asked to change into a hospital gown, and you will need to remove any jewelry or valuables.
While both scans use computerized tomography (CT) imaging techniques, the CT angiogram is a more involved test than the basic heart CT scan. Cardiologists or primary care physicians will sometimes order it to specifically look at the arteries themselves, and it provides a lot more information than the heart CT scan. However, the CT angiogram requires an injection of dye, a higher dose of radiation and possibly medications, whereas the heart CT scan does not involve any dyes or medications and uses a lower dose of radiation.