Calcium in Heart Scan Predicts Disease

Calcium in Heart Scan Predicts Disease
EBT Scan Most Useful in People at Intermediate Risk of Heart Attack

May 12, 2003 -- Roughly half of all heart attacks and other coronary deaths occur in people without symptoms of heart disease. A new and somewhat controversial screening method that measures calcium deposits in the walls of the arteries that cover the heart offers the promise of predicting these events in this group of hard-to-identify patients.
In the largest study ever published assessing electron beam coronary artery calcium scanning as a screening tool for heart disease, researchers concluded that the diagnostic method was remarkably useful for identifying future trouble in people at moderate risk. Compared with men with the lowest levels of the calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, men with the highest levels of calcium scores were twice as likely to have heart attacks and 10 times as likely to need bypass surgery or angioplasty.
"Electron beam tomography (EBT) provided incremental information above the traditional risk factor assessment for this intermediate risk group," lead researcher George T. Kondos, MD, tells WebMD. "This appears to be much better than the traditional treadmill test for identifying people with asymptomatic disease."
In this study, Kondos and colleagues at the University of Illinois College of Medicine used EBT to evaluate the risk for coronary events among 5,635 men and women with no symptoms of heart disease. Participants were asked to hold their breath on two occasions for 30 seconds to one minute while lying on a special couch that slid into a hollow computed tomography (CT) scanner. During this time, electron beams create multiple images of the heart, and a computer measures the density of calcium deposits in the artery walls.
Within three-and-a-half years of having the test, 224 of the volunteers developed evidence of heart disease. They either required bypass surgery or angioplasty to open clogged arteries, had...