You probably know your total cholesterol levels, fasting blood glucose and Body Metabolic Index(BMI). Your coronary artery calcium score may also matter.
A new study shows that coronary artery calcium (CAC) screening could help determine a person’s risk for heart attack and heart disease-related illnesses, as well as identifying a need for angioplasty or bypass surgery. This assessment tool is currently not recommended for people at low risk of heart disease and who do not smoke; however, CAC can be a useful assessment tool in the future, with its direct measure of calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries, which can be easily acquired on a computed tomography (CT) scan.
Lead author Michael Silverman, a cardiology fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told Johns Hopkins Medicine, “We showed that by using only the traditional risk factors, we miss a significant percentage of individuals at high risk. We may also be over-treating a large number of people who can safely avoid lifelong treatment.”
Published in the European Heart Journal, the researchers compared two approaches of assessments for the risks of heart disease. The first approach only monitored the risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes. The second approach used a direct measurement of atherosclerosis with the CAC score.
Khurram Nasir, the study’s senior author and director of wellness and prevention research at Baptist Health Medical Group in Miami says, “Our study, using data from almost 7,000 adult participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), shows that coronary artery calcium screening provides an accurate, personalized assessment for those who, by traditional risk factors, are at either high or low risk of a heart attack or death from coronary artery disease.”
MESA participants were assessed, between 2000 and 2002, for risk factors had a coronary calcium scan and examined with an average of 7.1 years later for coronary disease events, like heart attacks. Co-author Roger Blumenthal, professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center noted that 15 percent of people who were believed to be at very low risk actually had very high coronary artery calcium scores and were at relatively high risk of a cardiac event over the next seven years.
Additionally, 35 percent of participants who were viewed as high risk, needing therapy with aspirin and statin medication, actually had no coronary artery calcium and an extremely low event rate over the next seven years.
Nasir believes the results could help physicians estimate heart disease risk for their patients in the future.