A scan of calcium deposits inside your arteries can help doctors deduce how long you’re likely to live, a new study has found.
The test, called a coronary calcium scan, uses a regular CT scan to look for calcium deposits in the three major arteries that carry blood away from the heart, said lead author Leslee Shaw, a professor of cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta.
People with the largest amounts of calcium in their arteries carry an early death risk that’s six times greater than those with no calcium deposits, researchers found in a 15-year study of nearly 10,000 patients.
“If you had no calcium or very small amounts, we were able to track over a very long time that you actually had a very outstanding survival,” Shaw said.
Calcium deposits develop as a response to plaque formation along the artery walls, Shaw said.
These plaques, which are caused by blood cholesterol, build up over time and cause arteries to narrow, leading to heart disease as the heart works harder to pump blood through the body.
If a plaque bursts, a blood clot can form on its surface, blocking blood flow and causing a heart attack, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. If the clot breaks free, it can flow into the brain and cause a stroke.
To prevent plaques from bursting, the body tries to harden them by depositing calcium salts over and around them, Shaw said.
In this new study, doctors referred 9,715 healthy patients in the Nashville area between 1996 and 1999 to a cardiology outreach screening program provided by the military’s Tricare Healthcare System. The patients underwent a calcium scan, and also provided a detailed history of their heart risk factors.
Researchers then tracked the participants for roughly 15 years, taking special note of the 936 patients who died.
Analysis revealed that the risk of premature death steadily increased with the amount of calcium deposits found in a person’s major arteries.
This is an excellent study but I need to clarify a few points – calcium scans use a high speed CT scanner, not a “regular CT”. Plaque is caused by inflammation of the artery wall, not by “blood cholesterol”. Actually, artery inflammation increases homocysteine that attaches to cholesterol and forms the plaque. The myth of cholesterol causing heart disease is built upon this misinformation. Please review my blog “Computerized Tomography” posted on July 15, 2015 for more information on these issues.
The Bottom Line:
High speed CT scan of the heart to generate a calcium score is an excellent, cost effective test that can be an invaluable tool in preventive medicine. Combining this study with laboratory tests for CRP (vascular inflammation marker) and the homocysteine allows a physician to really predict your risk of cardiovascular accident.
Source: July 6, 2015 National Institutes of Health
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