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Why would a doctor order a coronary calcium scan?

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Doctors order a coronary calcium scan to evaluate patients with an intermediate risk for developing a heart attack, explains Mayo Clinic. The scan checks the amount of calcium present in the coronary arteries, which is a risk factor for developing coronary artery disease.

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Before the heart scan, the doctor makes a risk assessment to determine the necessity of the procedure, explains Mayo Clinic. This includes a medical history review, an evaluation of lifestyle habits, such as smoking and exercise, a physical exam, and blood tests. The scan is not recommended for patients with a history of a heart attack, angioplasty and coronary artery bypass surgery. Individuals who have a low or high heart attack risk are also poor candidates for the procedure.

A coronary calcium scan is performed using electron beam computed tomography or multidetector computed tomography, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Both techniques use X-rays, which create detailed pictures of the heart.

Before the procedure patients have to remove all jewelry from their body and to change into a hospital gown, suggests Mayo Clinic. During the procedure the patient is placed on the CT table and lies still in the scanner as the machine takes images of the heart, according to Mayo Clinic. The results of the scan are evaluated and score is calculated, which the doctor uses with other information to determine the heart attack risk.

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