Harvard Heart Letter

Should you consider a coronary artery calcium scan?

If you're on the fence about whether to take a statin, this test might make sense.

Cardiologists constantly seek better ways to predict who will have a heart attack. Among the many potentially helpful options is a coronary artery calcium scan. This test uses a special x-ray machine called a computed tomography (CT) scanner that takes multiple pictures of the heart in thin sections. Combined, the scans produce a view that can reveal specks of calcium in the walls of the heart's arteries. These specks, called calcifications, are an early sign of cardiovascular disease.

But this test doesn't make sense for everyone. A person who is under age 40 or has a very low risk of heart disease shouldn't have one; nor should a person who already has heart disease. In both of those cases, the test results are unlikely to change their treatment. "But for a person without heart disease whose risk falls somewhere in the middle and who is trying to decide whether to take a statin, the results from a coronary artery calcium scan can be helpful," says Dr. Ron Blankstein, a cardiovascular imaging specialist and preventive cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »