Coronary Artery Calcium May Help Predict Heart Diseases

Looking for calcium in arteries may help doctors predict the risk of a heart attack, research has shown. Calcium contributes to the hard "plaque" deposits that fur up the walls of diseased arteries causing them to narrow.

When this results in insufficient blood flow it can lead to heart attacks or angina chest pains.

Traditional methods of assessing heart attack risk involve totting up factors such as age, high blood pressure, and levels of blood cholesterol. The new research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that adding a calcium score to the process significantly improves accuracy, The Press Association news agency says.

"This kind of evidence gives encouragement to go on and do additional testing, but it shouldn't convince us that this test should be done routinely," said Dr. Philip Greenland, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and a member of the team reporting the study in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Computed tomography uses X-rays to get a detailed picture of heart structure. Its use in diagnosing existing heart disease has become controversial because X-ray exposure increases the risk of cancer. The new study of nearly 6,000 healthy Americans was done to see whether the technique could improve the predictive power of existing cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, BusinessWeek informs.

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