Increased screening may be the answer to find people at risk for developing heart disease in future, researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.
The team suggests that adding noninvasive imaging to current risk-assessment protocols may better predict those at a higher risk of heart disease.
Researchers used data from the UT Southwestern-led Dallas Heart Study to determine whether using computed tomography (CT) to scan patients' hearts for calcium deposits and blockages could identify more people at high risk for heart disease and who could benefit from cholesterol-lowering therapy.
The recommendations by the Screening for Heart Attack Prevention and Education (SHAPE) task force are a proposed update to the current guidelines, were updated by the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP-ATP III) in 2004.
The researchers found that the additional imaging proposed by the SHAPE task force did indeed increase the number of patients classified at "high risk."
"We added imaging of coronary artery calcium, as recommended by the SHAPE task force, to determine if this strategy would augment current risk assessment," said Dr. Jason Lindsey, an author of the paper and cardiology fellow at UT Southwestern.
The efficiency of calcium screening according to the SHAPE recommendations was determined by the number of people who had to be scanned before a single participant was reclassified as either meeting or not meeting individual cholesterol goals.
"In our sample of participants in the Dallas Heart Study, we found that by applying SHAPE recommendations compared with the current guidelines (NCEP-ATP III) there was a 27 percent relative increase in the proportion of patients who would need lipid-lowering therapy," said Dr. James de Lemos, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and the study's senior author.
SHAPE calls for a broader application of atherosclerosis imaging than is currently recommended. Whether increased imaging of patients will be cost effective in the long term remains to be seen, Dr. de Lemos said.
"We can't say what would happen in terms of clinical outcomes, but in terms of risk assessment we can provide a model of how these guidelines would impact treatment," Dr. de Lemos said.
"We found that for every seven people who had calcium imaging, one needed to readjust cholesterol goals to lower levels."
The study is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.