Heart Health

Should I get a calcium score?

Ask the doctor

By , Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

photo of a man about to have a CT scan talking to the technician who will operate the machine

Q. I'm wondering if I should get a test to check my calcium score. I'm 52 and in good health. My LDL cholesterol level is normal (97 mg/dL), but my father had a heart attack in his late 40s.

A. The artery-clogging plaque that builds up inside the heart's arteries contains cholesterol, inflammatory cells, scar tissue, and calcium. A coronary artery calcium scan (often called a calcium score) uses a special type of CT scan to look for that calcium, which is then quantified on a scale from zero to over 1,000. A score of zero indicates no calcified plaque. The higher the score, the more plaque is present. Findings from large studies link higher calcium scores to a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke.

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About the Author

photo of Christopher P. Cannon, MD

Christopher P. Cannon, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Heart Letter; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Christopher P. Cannon is editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. He is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior physician in the Preventive Cardiology section of the Cardiovascular Division at … See Full Bio
View all posts by Christopher P. Cannon, MD

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