Calcium Buildup Better Sign of Heart Attack Risk

Current assessment for heart attack risk may not be enough according to a new study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Doctors look at many factors to determine a person’s risk of heart disease and a potential heart attack. A new study has shown that a common test may hold the key to a better diagnosis.

Researchers found that some patients considered low-risk for heart attack actually had a worrisome amount of calcium buildup in their arteries.

This study also showed many patients considered high-risk by normal assessment had no calcium buildup at all, indicating little chance of a heart attack.

Coronary calcium scans are a special X-ray that looks for calcium in plaque that can build up on artery walls.

"Seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of a heart attack."

This study was led by Michael G. Silverman, MD, of Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease in Baltimore, MD and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

The study looked at 6,698 adult participants in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) who showed no signs of coronary heart disease (CHD) when they joined the study.

These participants were recruited between 2000 and 2002 when they received coronary calcium scans and were assessed for risk factors of heart disease. 

The researchers followed up for an average of 7.1 years after the original scan to determine if the participants had a coronary heart disease event such as a heart attack.

The study revealed that 15 percent of individuals originally rated as low risk actually had a calcium rating above 100, placing them at a high risk for a major coronary event in the future.

The researchers also found that 35 percent of patients diagnosed as having a very high risk of heart attack had no coronary artery calcium, making then unlikely to experience a heart attack over the next seven years.

Coronary calcium scan scores range from 0 to more than 400. Ratings over 100 are a strong indicator of heart attack risk.

The authors of this study suggested that physicians consider using coronary artery calcium testing to determine a more accurate risk assessment when a patient’s need for medication is borderline.

Limitations include using number of risk factors instead of calculating risk scores, excluding family history and not looking at age as a risk factor.

This study was published online on December 23 in the European Heart Journal.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
December 23, 2013
Last Updated:
December 24, 2013