Despite significant advances over the past decades, heart disease continues to be the number one killer in men and women in the United States. Patients often experience apprehension as many medical problems – such as heart disease – can lie dormant for years or even decades.

While patients might be at risk of heart disease, they might not know how much risk they have. An annual checkup with a primary care physician might not be enough to gauge one’s risk of future heart events.

A coronary calcium score is a non-invasive procedure to help quantify a patient’s risk before symptoms of heart disease appear and before the patient has a significant event.

As arteries harden, plaque builds up within the vessels. These plaques gather calcium as they harden. Plaques can expand over time, leading to debilitating angina; further, plaques might rupture, leading to a heart attack.

A coronary calcium score uses these properties to help quantify how much heart disease someone has by measuring the amount of calcium within these arteries via commuted tomography (CT).

There are scales of the amount of coronary calcium that help medical professionals understand what a patient’s future risk might be. The lower the amount of calcium within the heart, the lower the chance of future heart events becomes.

The coronary calcium score will help your physician gauge your risk and tailor a plan using diet, exercise and possibly medication and additional testing to help manage your risk for future heart events.

Ideal candidates for a coronary calcium score are patients at moderate risk for future heart events. Often, these patients have close family members with prior heart disease or they, themselves, have risk factors that indicate that they may have future events.

Some risk factors include middle age, smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia.

Patients who have already had a heart event or have ongoing symptoms that might indicate a heart problem should seek the advice of a medical professional for guidance, as a coronary calcium score might not be the correct diagnostic tool for their management strategy.

Medical professionals will help guide their patients through this process, helping them determine if they are appropriate candidates to take this test. In addition, they will be there for the patient to interpret test results and help manage the patient’s care based on the information the test provides.

For more information on coronary calcium scoring, visit The coronary calcium score is an important tool to help motivate patients as they become empowered with a better understanding of their future risk.

Together we will be able to attack future heart health head on.

Dr. Stuart Smalheiser is a Beaufort Memorial interventional cardiologist with active board certifications in General Cardiology, Interventional Cardiology and Nuclear Cardiology.