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What is a coronary calcium scan?

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A coronary calcium scan is a test that provides pictures of the heart's arteries and checks for calcium deposits in the arterial walls, according to Mayo Clinic. This scan uses a special X-ray, a computed tomography, to look for calcium in plaque in the walls of the coronary artery, as WebMD explains. The scan is also known as cardiac calcium scoring.

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The computed tomography machine uses X-rays to take detailed pictures of the heart, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The patient lies quietly in the machine for about 10 minutes while it takes pictures of the heart in thin sections.

The machine digitally records the pictures in a computer. Then, the physician may print them out or save the scan for further study, as WebMD indicates.

A coronary calcium scan helps doctors determine a patient's 10-year risk for stroke, heart attack and heart disease, as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains. It helps patients and doctors make decisions about how to lower these risks, according to WebMD. The scan is most useful for people who do not have heart disease but have a moderate risk for heart attacks. Doctors also use the scan to check for heart disease in the early stages to determine its severity.

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