Health Team

Study analyzes value of calcium score test

Posted April 27, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2010 9:33 p.m. EDT

Doctors use CT scans to determine how much calcium is in a person’s artery – their coronary artery calcium score. The numbers are used to help determine a person’s risk of developing heart disease.

“The calcium gets there we think, as a consequence of damage to the artery,” said Dr. Philip Greenland, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Greenland led a study analyzing the value of the CT scans as a determinant of heart disease risk.

In the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers studied the calcium scores of more than 6,800 participants over eight years. Participants were 45 years and older with no detectable heart or blood vessel disease. About half of them had coronary calcium.

“Not everybody who has coronary calcium seems to benefit from the test because if they were at high risk already based on standard tests, this didn't really add very much,” Greenland said.

Standard tests to determine low, intermediate or high risk of heart disease include looking at a patient’s age, blood pressure, cholesterol and tobacco use.

Researchers say the calcium score could improve decision making for intermediate risk patients.

The test did move a quarter of its participants to high risk and another quarter to low risk.

“This is a test that our results show really should be used in the medical setting, ordered by a doctor after the other tests have been done,” Greenland said.

Researchers say the calcium score test does require radiation exposure. It is also more expensive than many other tests which are used to determine heart disease risk.