Heart and Vascular

Calcium score: A cardiac test you may need

Harvey Kramer MD with patient


By Harvey Kramer, MD, Director of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Danbury Hospital


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., contributing to more than 650,000 lives lost annually. While genetics and lifestyle choices play a part in this alarming statistic, early detection and prevention can make a remarkable difference.

Just as mammograms and colonoscopies have long provided life-saving screenings for breast and colon cancers, calcium score screenings have more recently emerged as an innovative tool in the fight against heart disease. A calcium score screening is not a routinely recommended test. However, it may be ordered based on your specific heart health assessment and needs. 


Let’s take a closer look at what a calcium score screening is, its benefits and recommendations for getting one.



What is a calcium score screening?

A calcium score screening, also known as coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring, is a non-invasive imaging test used to assess the amount of calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, which are vessels that supply blood to the heart. These deposits can cause atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries that can cause them to narrow and slow blood flow to the heart. Atherosclerosis is a significant risk factor for heart disease, including heart attacks and stroke.

Learn more about coronary artery disease.


What happens during the screening?

Obtaining a calcium score involves a computed tomography (CT) scan of the heart. At your appointment, you will lie down on an exam table and sticky patches containing electrodes will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. The table will move through a doughnut-shaped scanner while X-ray technology is used to take detailed images of your coronary arteries. The test should only take a few minutes. The amount of radiation from the test is relatively small, equivalent to a woman’s mammogram.


The images are then analyzed to calculate the amount of calcium present in the arterial walls. The results are expressed as a calcium score, reflecting the severity of buildup.

Calcium score

Presence of coronary artery disease (CAD)


No evidence of CAD


Minimal evidence of CAD


Mild evidence of CAD


Moderate evidence of CAD

Over 400

Extensive evidence of CAD


Your doctor will discuss your results and what steps should be taken if there is evidence of CAD, including lifestyle changes, medication and further testing.

Learn more about cardiovascular imaging and testing at Nuvance Health


Who should get calcium score screenings?

Calcium score screenings are recommended for people who are or have:

Middle to old age:
If you are 40 and above and have risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for heart disease. Calcium score screenings can help assess the extent of damage to the arteries.

A family history of heart disease
: If premature heart disease runs in your family, a calcium score screening can provide insights into your risk.

Other risk factors:
If you are obese, have a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, you may benefit from early screening to identify and address potential cardiovascular risks.

Please note that a calcium score screening is not recommended for people who:

  • Already have atherosclerotic heart disease
  • Are Pregnant
  • Are Under 40

Benefits of calcium score screenings

Early detection:
Calcium score screenings can detect atherosclerosis at an early stage, often before symptoms manifest. This early detection enables physicians to prescribe preventive measures and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Personalized risk assessment:
Knowing your calcium score allows your doctor to tailor a treatment plan based on your specific risk profile. This personalized approach can lead to more effective prevention and management strategies.

Knowing your calcium score can motivate you to make healthier lifestyle choices, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, smoking cessation and stress management. It can also be useful in deciding if, in fact, you should receive certain treatments, a statin medication for high cholesterol, for example, when you or you provider are not certain whether the treatment is really necessary.

Monitoring progress:
If your calcium score is zero, repeat testing is now recommended in approximately three to five years, depending on your cardiovascular risk profile. If you already have atherosclerotic heart disease (hardened arteries), repeat calcium score testing is not routinely recommended.


In the quest for better cardiovascular health, early detection and prevention are paramount. Calcium score screenings are a safe, quick and noninvasive way to identify early heart disease. If you fall into one of the risk categories mentioned above, consider discussing a calcium score screening with your doctor to gain valuable insights into your heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.