Chest Scans May Spot Signs of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular risk may be determined from chest screening unrelated to the heart

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Chest CT scans are a type of x-ray often used to investigate lung symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chest pain. They may also be a good way to detect signs of heart disease.

Those at risk for cardiovascular disease don’t always show signs that they are at risk. Studies have shown that imaging with computed tomography (CT) may reveal signs of heart disease, such as plaque buildup in the arteries.

New research has found that chest CT scans that are not specifically performed to assess heart health may still pick up clues of developing cardiovascular disease.

"Discuss your heart disease risk with a doctor."

Pushpa M. Jairam, MD, a researcher at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, and colleagues reviewed records on 10,410 patients who underwent diagnostic chest CT for reasons that were unrelated to the heart.

Dr. Jairam and team noted that 1,148 cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, occurred among these patients after an average follow-up of 3.7 years.

These researchers went back and reviewed CT scans for “incidental findings,” which are medical results related to heart disease that they weren’t originally looking for.

CT scans take many images (called slices) that can be viewed together to gain a very detailed picture of inside the body.

The investigators graded CT images for calcifications of coronary arteries, the thoracic aorta (which feeds blood mainly to structures in the chest area), and the heart valves. They also evaluated aorta diameters.

Based on these “incidental findings,” Dr. Jairam and team came up with a model showing how information from routine chest CT scans may be used to identify patients who are at high risk of future cardiovascular events.

"Our study provides a novel strategy to detect patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease, irrespective of the conventional risk factor status, based on freely available incidental information from a routine diagnostic chest CT," Dr. Jairam said in a press release. "The resulting prediction rule may be used to assist clinicians to refer these patients for timely preventive cardiovascular risk management."

Some CT scans, called coronary calcium scans, can be used to directly assess heart health. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, however, do not recommend routine use of heart scans on individuals without symptoms of heart disease and who don't smoke or have cardiac risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

This study was published online May 27 in the journal Radiology. No relevant conflicts of interest reported.

Review Date: 
May 26, 2014
Last Updated:
May 27, 2014