Researchers at the University of California, Irvine say that they have identified a very practical and non-invasive procedure to predict future heart attack and heart disease.
In a study report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers say that calcium deposits in coronary arteries provide a strong predictor for possible future heart attacks and cardiac diseases, and detecting such deposits can be valuable for promoting overall cardiac health.
The researchers claim that their study is the largest study to involve a non-invasive procedure called CT scanning to test some 6,700 people nationwide, and the first to include racially and ethnically diverse participants.
They say that their study is distinct from others because previous coronary calcium studies featured only small enrolments of white patients.
"The results prove that coronary calcium detection is a strong predictor of heart attack and disease for African Americans, Hispanics and Chinese Americans as well. It wasn't known before whether this would be effective for other racial and ethnic groups, and this study answers that important question," said Dr. Robert Detrano, professor of radiological sciences at UC Irvine and study leader.
The researchers say that coronary calcium can be detected by CT scanning because the procedure focuses on the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart and are especially susceptible to calcium build-up.
During the course of study, the researchers observed that participants with moderate deposit amounts were over seven times more susceptible to cardiac heart disease than people with no coronary calcium build-up.
The research group also noted that participants with large deposit amounts faced a 10 times greater risk.
Coronary calcium, a marker for a diseased artery, builds up like atherosclerotic plaque and is caused by high blood lipid levels.
Detrano said that calcium screening could be recommended for people at moderate risk.
"This is a very practical and effective method for cardiac disease and heart attack prevention. One of the factors we need to address is cost; it behooves the imaging industry to bring the cost down and make this procedure available to everyone," said Detrano, who had proposed the investigation of calcium screening as early as 1989.
Currently, CT scan procedure costs between 300 to 600 dollars per exam, but Detrano believes that this cost can be lower. In his work diagnosing and treating cardiac diseases in rural China, Detrano performs CT research scans for as little as 30 dollars.
The researcher also claims that the study conducted China is the first to establish that coronary calcium detection can predict future cardiac diseases and heart attacks in people.