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Arterial Calcium Scans Can Predict Death Risk
Date:6/23/2008

5.8 years after having a coronary artery calcium scan by electron beam tomography.

"Increasing coronary artery calcium was associated with decreasing survival across all age deciles [10-year intervals]," the researchers reported.

Scanning not only indicated those at higher risk, but also could be used to indicate a better chance of survival in persons with major risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, the team wrote.

"The use of coronary calcium scanning allowed us to reclassify more than 40 percent of the patients, 70 or more years old, often by excluding risk," the report said.

"It is clear that coronary artery calcium is a good predictor of cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality, and since cardiovascular events are a major cause of mortality, it does not surprise me that it is a good predictor of all-cause mortality," said Dr. Robert Detrano, professor of radiological sciences, who led the University of California, Irvine, study.

Calcium scanning is useful, "because you want assistance in deciding what you can do to keep the patient health," Detrano said.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have recommended calcium scans only for persons at intermediate risk of heart disease, not for those at high or low risk. Risk is determined by considering such factors as age, family history, obesity, diabetes and cholesterol levels. Presence of one or two of those factors indicates intermediate risk, Budoff said.

"That would be a man over 45 or a women past menopause with diabetes or high blood pressure or a family history or who smokes," he said.

Budoff defended the cost of a calcium scan as "about the same as a treadmill test and cheaper than a colonoscopy." Coverage of the procedure by Medicare and medical insurers differs from region to region and company to company, he said. A calcium scan can save money in some cases by
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