Coronary calcium may predict death risk

A computerized X-ray image of calcium deposits along a person’s coronary arteries can signal whether that individual carries a hidden health risk, a study in the September Radiology suggests.

Researchers enrolled 10,377 people, average age 53, who were free of heart disease but had at least one risk factor for it. These included high cholesterol, a family history of early heart problems, high blood pressure, a smoking habit, and diabetes. All participants received a computerized tomography scan of their coronary arteries.

For each person, the researchers created what they called a coronary calcium score on the basis of the size and density of calcium deposits revealed by the scan. Most volunteers had a score of less than 10, but some exceeded 1,000, says study coauthor Paolo Raggi of Tulane University in New Orleans.

After tracking the participants for an average of 5 years, the researchers found that people with calcium scores of 100 to 400 at the beginning of the study were nearly four times as likely to have died than those with scores under 10. The 3 percent of volunteers with scores over 1,000 were 12 times as likely to be dead after 5 years, compared with the low-calcium group.

Coronary calcium scores might prove valuable for identifying people who have no symptoms of heart disease but are at risk of it, Raggi says.


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