This study shows that even healthy people with no early family history of heart disease may want to get a calcium score test.

Have you had your coronary calcium score taken? This is a five minute procedure using a CT scanner.

You just lie there while the image is taken: about five minutes.

This procedure yields a numerical value that’s associated with the amount of hard (stable) plaque buildup that’s in your heart’s arteries. A score of zero means that there is no detectable hard plaque buildup.

Calcium scoring does not show soft (unstable) plaque buildup. The soft plaque is unstable and may spontaneously break off, causing a clot in a coronary artery: a heart attack.

However, enough hard plaque can cause obstructive coronary artery disease, narrowing the interior of the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow in the heart.

Calcium Scoring Indicates Death Risk Even in People without Family History of Heart Disease

Emory University School of Medicine researchers analyzed coronary calcium scores taken from over 9,700 study subjects. At the time these participants had their scans, none had signs of heart disease.

The calcium scores, say the researchers, were accurate in predicting all-cause mortality up to 15 years out in patients without symptoms.

Joseph Knapper, MD, one of the study authors, says in the paper that the CAC score is “most accurate in those without a family history of early heart disease.”

Dr. Knapper believes that it may be a good idea to expand the calcium score test to low-risk people who don’t have a family history, rather than recommend it to only those with higher risks or who have the early family history risk. This would give such individuals a head start with their heart health.

How Was this Study Done?

• 6,300 people with family history of early heart disease were followed.
• So were 2,800 with no history.
• Everyone underwent a scan for a CAC score.
• They were interviewed regarding risk factors like smoking and high blood pressure.
• For 15 years they were tracked. Deaths were recorded regardless of cause.

Higher CAC Score = Higher All-Cause Mortality

Over the 15 years, subjects who’d had higher calcium scores were more likely to have died.

This was true even when other risk factors (smoking, diabetes) were controlled for.

Those with the highest scores (over 1,000) had about an eight times higher death risk compared to subjects with the lowest scores and no family history.

Participants with a family history had a four-fold greater mortality risk.

At this point, just how the CAC screening guidelines should be expanded is not known, pending further research.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  



Top image: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson