Scientists find a new way to identify people with high risk of heart disease

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More than 40% of middle-aged adults have silent coronary artery disease.

In a new study, researchers have developed a new screening questionnaire to help identify people at the highest risk for this disease.

The research was conducted by a team at Gothenburg University in Sweden.

Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, or deposits of fats, cholesterol and calcium in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart.

Early detection of coronary artery disease is possible by imaging blood vessels using coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) imaging; however, it can be expensive and requires specialized equipment.

According to the team, the buildup of plaque does not cause symptoms in the early phases of atherosclerosis yet may lead to reduced blood flow to the heart and result in a heart attack.

They examined whether a personalized screening strategy using data easily measured at home could predict which patients are at high risk of developing heart disease.

The study included more than 30,000 men and women, ages 50-64 years, who had no history of prior heart attack or cardiac intervention.

Participants were asked questions about gender, age, smoking, body measurements, cholesterol medication and blood pressure to predict their risk of coronary artery disease.

Researchers then used CCTA images to examine patients’ arteries for the presence of plaque. More than 25,000 individuals from the original sample were successfully imaged.

The imaging results found that silent coronary artery disease was common, with 42% of participants having plaque in their coronary arteries.

A higher prevalence of atherosclerosis was observed in men and in older people.

The team found that responses to the screening questions successfully predicted which people had severe atherosclerosis and were at higher risk of developing heart disease.

They were surprised that atherosclerosis was so widespread and that we could rather easily predict it with simple questions.

The study lays the foundation for the development of a home-based screening strategy to help combat cardiovascular disease.

The team says they can find people at high risk of having silent coronary artery disease using a simple screening questionnaire followed by a clinical visit to a health-care facility to define the risk further using CCTA imaging.

One author of the study is Göran Bergström, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and lead physician at Sahlgrenska Academy.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020.

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