Predict a ‘silent killer’ – a new early warning sign for heart disease discovered

The buildup of calcium in a main artery outside the heart can predict future heart attack or stroke, a new study led by Edith Cowan University showed.

The buildup of calcium in a main artery outside the heart can predict future heart attack or stroke, a new study led by Edith Cowan University showed.

Published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the research could help doctors identify people at risk for cardiovascular disease years before symptoms occur.

Analyzing 52 previous studies, the international team of researchers found that people with abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) are two to four times more likely to have a future cardiovascular event.

The study also found how widespread the calcium is in the blood vessel wall, the greater the risk of future cardiovascular events and people with AAC and chronic kidney disease are even more at risk than those of 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 the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.

The factors that contribute to the calcification of arteries include a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and genetics.

Predict a ‘silent killer’

Lead researcher, associate professor Josh Lewis of the ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, and the Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, said the findings provide important clues to cardiovascular health.

“Heart disease is often a silent killer, as many people do not know they are in danger or that they have the early warning signs, such as calcification in the abdominal or coronary artery,” he said.

The abdominal aorta is one of the first places where calcium can build up in the arteries – even in front of the heart. If we pick it up early, we can intervene and implement lifestyle and medication changes to help prevent the condition.

Save life

Lecturer Lewis hopes that this discovery will lead more people to understand their own risk for a heart attack or stroke.

“In some routine tests, calcification of abdominal aorta is often included, such as lateral spine scans of bone density machines or x-rays, and now we have a much better idea of ​​the prognosis in these people than it is seen,” he said.

‘This may indicate an early warning to doctors that they need to investigate and assess the risk of heart attack or stroke.

“Finally, if we can identify this condition sooner, people can make lifestyle changes and start preventative treatments earlier, which could potentially save many lives in the future.”

The international study involved researchers from INSERM, the Hinda and Marcus Institute for Aging Research, the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia and the University of Minnesota.

The study builds on medical professor Lewis’ recent research on the use of bone density scans and artificial intelligence to identify and quantify abdominal aortic calcification.

A promising future

Associate Professor Josh Lewis is supported in his position at ECU by the National Heart Foundation of Australia Future Leader Fellowship.

Amanda Buttery, manager of clinical evidence from the Heart Foundation, welcomed the study.

“The researchers found that evidence of abdominal aortic calcification in patients with no cardiovascular disease may indicate that a more comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment is needed, including blood pressure and cholesterol tests or a heart health test,” she said. Buttery said.

“The findings are promising, and the Heart Foundation would like to see more research in this area.”

Reference: “Prognostic value of abdominal aortic calcification: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies” 13 January 2021, Journal of the American Heart Association.

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