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How to Interpret a Calcium Score

author image Maura Shenker
Maura Shenker is a certified holistic nutritionist and health counselor who started her writing career in 2010. She leads group workshops, counsels individual clients and blogs about diet and lifestyle choices. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, a Master of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
How to Interpret a Calcium Score
Patient speaking to doctor in an office. Photo Credit amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images

A coronary calcium scan, also known as a heart scan, measures the amount of calcium deposited in the arteries of your heart. The more coronary calcium you have, the higher your levels of plaque, which may lead to atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of your arteries. As less blood flows to your heart, you increase the risk of a cardiac event or heart attack. The use of calcium scores is controversial because they may not be useful to you if you fall into either a low- or high-risk category.

Step 1

Determine if a coronary calcium scan would be useful for you. If you are under 55 years old, don't smoke, don't have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and have no family history of heart disease, you are considered a low-risk patient, and a heart scan probably won't tell you anything new. If you are over 65 and have a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, you are a high-risk patient, and the scan won't tell you anything you don't already know.

Step 2

Understand the meaning of your Agatston score. The lower the score, the lower your risk of coronary heart disease. There are four categories of scores; less than 10, meaning minimal to no calcium was found, and those with scores of 11 to 99 who have a moderate amount of calcification. A score between 100 and 399 is classified as increased calcification and any score over 400 signifies extensive calcium deposits. According to the American Heart Association, if your Agatston score is over 1,000, you have a 20 percent chance of having a serious or fatal cardiac episode within one year of testing.

Step 3

Make healthy lifestyle changes or discuss the possibility of a bypass, angioplasty or stent if your Agatston score is high. Stop smoking, follow a diet designed to lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and start an exercise program to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease.

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