In a new study, researchers found that the build-up of calcium in a major artery outside of the heart could predict a future heart attack or stroke.
The finding could help doctors identify people at risk of heart disease years before symptoms arise.
The research was conducted by a team at Edith Cowan University.
In the study, the team analyzed 52 previous studies, and they found that people who have abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) have a two to four times higher risk of a future cardiovascular event.
They also found the more extensive the calcium in the blood vessel wall, the greater the risk of future cardiovascular events and people with AAC and chronic kidney disease were at even greater risk than those from the general population with AAC.
Calcium can build up in the blood vessel wall and harden the arteries, blocking blood supply or causing plaque rupture, which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
The factors contributing to artery calcification include a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and genetics.
The team says heart disease is often a silent killer as many people don’t know they are at risk or that they have the early warning signs, such as abdominal or coronary artery calcification.
The abdominal aorta is one of the first sites where the build-up of calcium in the arteries can occur—even before the heart.
If doctors pick this up early, they can intervene and implement lifestyle and medication changes to help stop the condition from progressing.
The team hopes this discovery will lead to more people understanding their own risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Abdominal aortic calcification is often picked up incidentally in many routine tests, such as lateral spine scans from bone density machines or x-rays, and now doctors have a much better idea of the prognosis in these people when it is seen.
This can signal an early warning for them that they need to investigate and assess their patient’s risk of heart attack or stroke.
One author of the study is Associate Professor Josh Lewis.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
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