Results are considered normal if the heart and arteries being examined are normal in appearance.
Your "calcium score" is based on the amount of calcium found in the arteries of your heart.
The test is normal (negative) if your calcium score is 0. This means the chance of having a heart attack over the next 2 to 5 years is very low.
If the calcium score is very low, you are unlikely to have coronary artery disease.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to:
Congenital heart disease
Coronary artery disease
Heart valve problems
Inflammation of the covering around the heart (pericarditis)
Narrowing of one or more coronary arteries (coronary artery stenosis)
Tumors or other masses of the heart or surrounding areas
If your calcium score is high:
It means you have calcium buildup in the walls of your coronary arteries. This is usually a sign of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
The higher your score, the more severe this problem may be.
Talk to your health care provider about lifestyle changes you can make to decrease the risk of heart disease.
Risks of CT scans include:
Being exposed to radiation
Allergic reaction to contrast dye
CT scans do expose you to more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. You and your provider should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem.
Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.
The most common type of contrast given into a vein contains iodine. If a person with an iodine allergy is given this type of contrast, nausea or vomiting, sneezing, itching, or hives may occur.
If you absolutely must be given such contrast, you may need to take antihistamines (such as Benadryl) or steroids before the test.
The kidneys help remove iodine out of the body. Those with kidney disease or diabetes may need to receive extra fluids after the test to help flush the iodine out of the body.
Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have any trouble breathing during the test, you should notify the scanner operator immediately. Scanners come with an intercom and speakers, so the operator can hear you at all times.
Taylor AJ. Cardiac computed tomography. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al. eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 18.
Taylor AJ, Cerqueira M, Hodgson JM, et al. ACCF/SCCT/ACR/AHA/ASE/ASNC/NASCI/SCAI/SCMR 2010 Appropriate Use Criteria for Cardiac Computed Tomography: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation Appropriate Use Criteria Task Force, the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography, the American College of Radiology, the American Heart Association, the American Society of Echocardiography, the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, the North American Society for Cardiovascular Imaging, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance. Circulation. 2010 Nov 23;122(21):e525-55. PMID: 20975004 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20975004.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.