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What is a calcium heart test?

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Quick Answer

A calcium heart test, or a coronary calcium scan, uses special imaging technology to spot calcium in plaque that has formed on arterial walls within the heart, according to WebMD. The purpose of the test is to identify heart disease and determine its present severity.

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Full Answer

Under normal circumstances, the arteries inside the heart do not contain any calcium. If a coronary calcium scan brings back positive results, meaning that calcium has formed inside the arteries, this is a possible sign that coronary artery disease has developed, explains WebMD.

The coronary calcium scan uses computed tomography to derive images of the heart, notes WebMD. The machine gathers images of the heart in thin sections. The device saves the pictures in a computer, and the technician can save the pictures for further analysis or print them out for the physician.

This type of test is most useful for people who have not yet developed heart disease but have at least a medium risk for developing it, claims WebMD. A physician helps people determine their individual risk for this type of disease, as well as stroke or heart attack, based on factors such as cholesterol, diabetes, age, race, sex and blood pressure. People with no risk factors or who already have elevated risk factors should not take the test, as people with elevated risk factors should already have a physician's care. For people with medium risk, though, this test can provide the first warning sign.

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