Measuring calcium density helps predict stroke, heart attack risk

New study: The denser the plaque in the heart, the less dangerous it is

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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There are many risk factors that increase your chances for heart attack or stroke. Calcium plaque in the arteries is one of them.

A new study finds measuring the density of these plaques may help predict who's at greater risk for a cardiovascular event.

"The primary thing is it does not mean that somebody actually has heart disease. It's a risk factor.  It just increases the likelihood that someone might have heart disease," said Dr. David Frid, who did not take part in the study but is a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego studied C-T scans of men and women ages 45 to 84. They followed them for 10 years and focused on the coronary artery calcium in their heart arteries.

They found those who had denser calcium plaques were more protected from heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular events. Researchers say it's not good to have calcium plaque in your heart, but it appears the denser the plaque, the less dangerous it is.

"The calcium is part of the body's way of healing when there is some kind of damage or irritation done to the blood vessel wall. And that's the problem, the blood vessel can have these changes in them, which may signify that there is something bad happening, but it doesn't mean that there is actually a true blockage that is going to compromise the blood flow," explained Frid.

But Frid says using a C-T scan to measure calcium plaque in the arteries of the heart is not for everyone. It's typically reserved for high-risk patients only.

"The one thing about these coronary C-T scans to look for calcium is that people shouldn't run out and feel that they need to get them. These are tests that they really should discuss with their physician because they should only be used in certain, specific situations," Frid said.

Complete findings for this study are available online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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