Preparation and Procedure To Conduct a Coronary Calcium Scan

Submitted on March 27, 2012

A coronary artery calcium scan tests whether a person is at risk from coronary artery disease (CAD). It is also called a calcium scan test or cardiac CT for calcium scoring. One such CAD is a condition where the coronary arteries begin to harden and narrow out due to plaque build up on the arterial walls. This condition is also known as atherosclerosis. The blockage causes a strain on the heart as it gets insufficient blood and oxygen. It can lead to angina, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and heart attack. A doctor may ask a patient to undergo a coronary calcium scan in case of suspected calcifications. Calcifications are early indicators of heart disease.

Who needs Coronary Calcium Scan

Coronary calcium scans are helpful for those who stand a moderate risk of a heart attack. Coronary calcium scanning is done using either the electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) or the multidetector computed tomography (MDCT). These machines use x-ray beams to create detailed pictures of the heart. Prognosis based on the study of these pictures can tell whether a patient can suffer heart problems in the next couple of years.


Remove any jewelry, hair clips, dentures, and other metal objects that could interfere with the scan. You may need to avoid caffeine and smoking a few hours before the test. The technician operating the scanning machine will clean areas of the patient’s chest and apply small electrodes to monitor the heart. These electrodes are connected to an electrocardiogram monitor or EKG. The EKG will measure electrical activity in the patient’s heart while the scan is in progress. This allows pictures of the heart to be taken when the heart is relaxed.


The procedure is simple. The patient has to lie still, on his or her back, on the scanning machine table for approximately ten minutes. The table moves inside a hollow tube. Once inside, the patient’s body is scanned using x-ray beams that take pictures of the heart. While pictures are being taken the machine makes a whirring sound and patients are instructed to hold their breath for 10 to 20 seconds. Patients, who have a high heart beat, could be given a medication to slow down their heart rate. Once the coronary calcium scan is complete, you will receive a calcium score known as the Agatston score. A high Agatston score indicates a greater risk of atherosclerosis.