Coronary artery calcium can be a warning sign of fatal cardiac event

OAK BROOK, Ill. The amount of calcium accumulated in the coronary arteries can help predict whether an individual with no symptoms of heart disease will suffer a fatal event within five years, according to a large, multi-center study appearing in the September issue of the journal Radiology.

"Our observational study of more than 10,000 patients over five years revealed that coronary artery calcium screening provides independent, incremental information over traditional risk factors in predicting death," said study co-author Paolo Raggi, M.D., professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine and associate chief of cardiology at Tulane University Hospital and Clinics in New Orleans.

The study contributes important data to the debate on the use of coronary artery calcium screening to detect latent atherosclerosis, the leading cause of heart disease, in asymptomatic individuals. Atherosclerosis is a build up of cholesterol and other fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and other matter that contribute to the formation of what's commonly referred to as "plaque" in the inner lining of an artery. Plaque, which can grow large enough to significantly reduce blood flow through an artery, can also rupture, causing blood clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

"We know that atherosclerosis is a disease that infiltrates the arterial wall long before it obstructs blood flow and causes symptoms," Dr. Raggi said. "Over half of all first coronary heart disease events are sudden cardiac deaths or acute heart attacks in individuals who experienced no previous symptoms."

The traditional cardiac risk factors offer researchers good but limited ability to estimate risk for individual patients. To help prevent deaths, researchers are focusing on finding new tools that can help identify high-risk individuals. One such tool is coronary calcium screening.

The researchers followed 10,377 asymptomatic individuals who w

Contact: Maureen Morley
Radiological Society of North America

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