Diagnosing plaque is a straightforward process that involves a physical exam, reviewing your medical history, and series of diagnostic tests including:
- Blood tests to measure cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and lipoprotein levels. These can indicate your risk for developing atherosclerotic plaque.
- Ultrasound is a non-invasive test that can show early atherosclerotic plaque formation (even before it is narrowing an artery) in blood vessels such as the neck (carotid) arteries or the aorta.
- Coronary Calcium Score is a non-invasive test that uses a low radiation CT (computed tomography) scan without any injected dye (contrast material) to identify the calcified part of any atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. The only thing that causes calcium in the coronary arteries is plaque. The higher the calcium score, the higher your risk for events such as the development of angina or heart attack. The coronary calcium score does NOT represent the degree of narrowing of a coronary artery.
- Angiography is a more invasive test that provides an X-ray picture of the artery opening (width); the picture is taken after a catheter (long, thin, flexible tube) is inserted through a leg, arm, or neck artery and guided to the vessel where it injects a dye.