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What You Need to Know About a Heart Scan

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jan 31, 2023

Blog-Heart-ScanThough we see great advances in prevention and treatment, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. One person dies every 36 seconds within our country's population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you are overweight, smoke or have high blood pressure, you could be at risk for a heart attack or stroke.  That is why 15 minutes of your time could save your life.

A Heart Scan is a valuable tool in our toolkit for treating heart disease. It helps us understand your risks and - if found - it charts your first step in determining next steps with your heart ccare.

Here is some important information about the Heart Scan offered at Johnson Memorial Health:

Why We Recommend the Procedure

In short, heart disease such as plaque buildup keeps your most vital organ from fully functioning. 

Plaque is made up of fats, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood. It develops gradually over time, long before there are any signs or symptoms of the disease. These deposits can restrict the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of the heart. Plaque may also burst, triggering a blood clot that can cause a heart attack.

The Heart Scan measures calcified plaque and can help identify possible coronary artery disease before you have signs and symptoms. 

A Heart Scan may help guide treatment if you have a low to moderate risk of heart disease or if your heart disease risk isn't clear. Your results may also help motivate you to make important lifestyle changes and follow treatment plans.

How a Heart Scan Works

Specialized x-ray technology called multidetector-row or multislice computerized tomography (CT) creates multiple images of your heart. The scan provides an early look at levels of plaque.

Before the scan begins, the technician attaches sensors, called electrodes, to your chest. These connect to a device that records your heart activity during the exam and coordinates the timing of x-ray pictures between heartbeats when the heart muscles are relaxed.

During the heart scan, you lie on your back on a movable table, which slides into the tubelike CT scanner. Your head is outside the scanner the whole time. The exam room will likely be cool.

You may be given medication either by pill or injection that slows your heart. This helps ensure clear images. If you are nervous or anxious, you may be given medication to help you remain calm.

You'll be asked to lie still and hold your breath for a few seconds while the pictures are taken. The technician operates the scanner from a room next door, but can see and talk to you the entire time. The entire procedure should take no longer than 15 minutes.

Usually, no special precautions are needed after having a heart scan. You should be able to drive yourself home and continue your daily activities.

 How to Prepare for the Heart Scan

When scheduling your appointment, you should ask if there are any special instructions, what should be your arrival time and what paperwork is needed.

You may be asked to avoid caffeine and smoking for up to four hours before the test.

Before the test, you will be asked to remove clothing above the waist and to wear a medical gown. You will also need to remove jewelry around your neck or near your chest.

Usually, no special precautions are needed after having a Heart Scan. You should be able to drive yourself home and continue your daily activities.

What the Results Mean

The result of the test is usually given as a number called an Agatston score. The score reflects the total area of calcium deposits and the density of the calcium.

  • A score of zero means no calcium is seen in the heart. It suggests a low chance of developing a heart attack in the future.
  • When calcium is present, the higher the score, the higher your risk of heart disease.
  • A score of 100 to 300 means moderate plaque deposits. It's associated with a relatively high risk of a heart attack or other heart disease over the next three to five years.
  • A score greater than 300 is a sign of very high to severe disease and heart attack risk.

You also may receive a percentile score, which indicates your amount of calcium compared to people of the same age and sex.

The result of a heart scan shouldn't be used as a single predictor of your overall health and risk of heart disease. The information from a heart scan should be combined with other health information.

What About After the Heart Scan

Your doctor will discuss the results of the heart scan with you. Depending on the outcome, one or more of the following strategies may be needed:

  • No change to the current treatment plan
  • Different medication or doses of medication
  • Changes to your diet and exercise routine
  • New weight-loss goals
  • Additional tests
  • Follow-up appointments to monitor your health and treatment plan

How to Schedule an Appointment

No referral is necessary for a Heart Scan at Johnson Memorial Health.

Call 317.346.3750

Topics: Heart Health