Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) is a fast and sensitive test for detecting calcium build-up in the arteries of the heart. It uses an electron gun instead of regular x-rays to scan the chest.
The amount of calcium build-up in the arteries will give your doctor an idea of whether a condition known as atherosclerosis has developed. This condition can lead to narrowing of the arteries, heart attack, stroke, and other serious conditions.
EBCT may be used to screen people for coronary artery disease (CAD). It can be used before or after symptoms actually appear. This test may be most useful for people at moderate risk for heart attacks. This is important because, for many people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack.
An EBCT is considered a low risk procedure and uses very low amounts of radiation. Despite this, women should let their doctor know if they are pregnant.
Some may also have an allergic reaction to dyes or contrast material used to enhance the images. Let your doctor know about any allergies you may have.
Your doctor will discuss your health and medical history, including any risk factors you have for CAD. This will help your doctor determine if EBCT screening is right for you.
You will be asked to lie down on a padded table under an arch-shaped scanner. You may remain clothed and your head will not be enclosed at any time. The scanner moves over your body and takes pictures of your internal organs. During the scan, you will be asked to hold your breath at times to help you remain motionless. A radiographer who runs the scan will be with you to answer any questions or concerns.
The procedure takes about 10-15 minutes. The actual scanning time is only a few seconds.
The EBCT software measures the calcium deposits in your arteries. This is called the calcification score. Depending on your score, your doctor will discuss any measures you should take to decrease your risk of CAD, such as exercising more or taking medication. Your doctor may also recommend more testing or surgery if your score is very high.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Radiology Info—Radiologic Society of North America
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardiac CT for calcium scoring. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=ct_calscoring. Updated April 19, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Coronary artery calcification. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://my.americanheart.org/professional/StatementsGuidelines/ByTopic/TopicsA-C/Coronary-Artery-Calcification_UCM_320695_Article.jsp. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Explore coronary calcium scan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cscan. Updated March 30, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013
Tomography, electron beam computed. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://my.americanheart.org/professional/StatementsGuidelines/ByTopic/TopicsQ-Z/Tomography-Electron-Beam-Computed_UCM_321680_Article.jsp. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Ultrafast/electron beam CT scan. University of Rochester Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/Encyclopedia/Content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P01828. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.