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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, contributing to about 1 in 4 deaths.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent this from happening. One test that can help detect the early signs of heart disease — even before you experience symptoms — is coronary calcium scoring.

What Is Coronary Calcium Scoring?

Coronary calcium scoring is a test that detects the buildup of calcium (or “plaque”) in your coronary arteries. Plaque buildup can block blood flow to your heart or brain, raising your risk of heart attack and stroke.

The test uses a CT scan, an advanced x-ray, to take pictures of your heart. These pictures can measure the amount of calcium inside your arteries and give you a calcium score. The higher your calcium score, the higher your risk for heart disease.

Based on your results, you and your doctor can discuss treatments and lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk. “Early detection of heart disease saves lives,” said Mehreen Qureshi, MD, cardiologist, UPMC in Central Pa., “Identification of plaque in the heart arteries with precise treatment targeted towards lowering cholesterol could be key in preventing a heart attack.”

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Who Should Get a Coronary Calcium Test?

People who are at higher risk for heart disease may benefit from a coronary calcium scoring test. Those who may benefit from testing include:

  • People with a personal or family history of coronary artery disease.
  • Men 45 and older.
  • Women 55 and older.
  • People with a history of smoking.
  • People with a history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • People who are overweight or obese.
  • People who are inactive.

If you believe you are at higher risk, talk to your doctor about getting a coronary calcium test.

What Does a Coronary Calcium Test Entail?

A coronary calcium scoring appointment should last around 30 minutes. The test itself should take between five and 10 minutes.

Clinicians will connect you to a heart monitor and may need to shave a small patch of your chest. The test itself is non-invasive, meaning nothing enters your body.

You should avoid wearing clothes that have metal zippers, snaps, or hooks from the waist up. However, you do not need to fast before your test.

Coronary Calcium Testing at UPMC

You can schedule a coronary calcium scoring test at UPMC by calling the location closest to you:

  • UPMC Altoona: 814-889-4222.
  • UPMC Central Pa. (several locations): 717-230-3700.
  • UPMC Outpatient Center, West Mifflin: 412-647-9729.
  • UPMC Hamot: 814-877-6123.
  • UPMC Passavant-McCandless: 412-647-9729.
  • UPMC Presbyterian: 412-647-9729.
  • UPMC Shadyside: 412-647-9729.

The test costs $99, and pre-payment is required.

You will get your results either through MyUPMC or the UPMC Central Pa. portal. To sign up for MyUPMC, visit MyUPMC.com. To sign up for the UPMC Central Pa. portal, visit UPMC.com/CentralPaPortal. You can also get your results by calling the office that performed your test.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.