A scan that detects calcium deposits in heart arteries may help predict the risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy middle-aged men.

The degree to which atherosclerosis affects heart arteries is related to the presence or absence of calcium.

New research shows that men with coronary artery calcificationhad an 11-times greater risk of developing heart disease in the next three years, even though the men didn’t have a lot of the other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

The study results provide more evidence of a link between calcium deposits in the heart arteries and heart disease. But researchers say it’s too soon to recommend routine calcium scans to screen for heart disease in people without other risk factors.

"Although it appeared that screening would be relatively cost-effective in the analysis that we did, I think at this time you have to stop short of recommending screening in all asymptomatic individuals, because it is not shown that such a strategy could actually prevent adverse outcomes," says researcher Allen J. Taylor, MD, of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in a news release.

Animated Guide: Coronary Artery Disease

Calcium Deposits Linked to Heart Risk

In the study, researchers followed about 2,000 U.S. Army personnel aged 40 to 50 who were undergoing regular physical examinations and had no evidence of heart disease. All of the more than 1,600 men and nearly 400 women had CT scans to detect calcium deposits in heart arteries and were followed for three years.

The results appear in the Sept. 6 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

During the follow-up period, there were only nine cases among men of heart disease events, such as heart attack, chest pain, or death due to heart disease.

But seven of these heart events (heart attacks, angina, or heart disease death) occurred among the 364 men who had evidence of calcium deposits; two heart events occurred in men without calcium deposits (1,263 men).

The researchers show that the presence of any calcium deposit on coronary arteries was associated with an almost 12-fold risk of coronary heart disease.

Taylorsays that in order for calcium scans to be useful in screening for heart disease, a positive result would have to be followed up with lifestyle changes and medical treatments designed to prevent heart attacks and other heart-related problems.

New Blood Test May Help Spot Heart Disease

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Taylor, A. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Sept. 6, 2005; vol 46: pp 807-814. News release, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.