Heart scans use a type of X-ray technology. Therefore, you are exposed to radiation. The amount of exposure is generally considered safe — about the same amount of radiation you're naturally exposed to in a year. Your own history of exposure from other medical tests will help your doctor and you discuss your relative risk.

A caution on walk-in heart scan clinics

The result of a heart scan is best used as one piece of information about your overall health and risk of heart disease.

Some medical facilities and walk-in centers may advertise heart scans as an easy way to measure your risk of a heart attack. Facilities that promote heart scans for the general public don't require a referral from a doctor. You can walk in and get the scan.

Problems with the walk-in approach include the following:

  • If you are at low risk of a heart attack, the risk of the procedure is likely to outweigh any benefit.
  • Heart scans are often not covered by insurance. The cost would be worthwhile only if the procedure is likely to provide more information than what can be learned by low-cost procedures such as blood tests and blood pressure checks.
  • You would be responsible for sharing the results with your primary care physician, who would need to interpret the results in the context of your overall health and any current treatments.
April 30, 2016
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  2. Goff DC, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the assessment of cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2014;63:2935.
  3. Gerber TC, et al. Diagnostic and prognostic implication of coronary artery calcification detected by computed tomography. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 12, 2016.
  4. Alluri K, et al. Scoring of coronary artery calcium scans: History, assumptions, current limitations, and future directions. Atherosclerosis. 2015;239:109.
  5. Greenland P, et al. 2010 ACCF/AHA guideline for assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2010;56:e50.
  6. Hecht HS. Coronary artery calcium scanning: Past, present, and future. JACC Cardiovascular Imaging. 2015;8:579.
  7. Shah NR, et al. An evidence-based guide for coronary calcium scoring in asymptomatic patients without coronary heart disease. Texas Heart Institute Journal. 2012;39:240.
  8. Lopez-Jimenez F (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 23, 2016.

Heart scan (coronary calcium scan)