(MEDIA GENERAL) – The results of a new study provided by the U.S. military’s Tricare Healthcare System (THS) revealed the importance and increasing value of a coronary calcium scan.
In the study, doctors referred 9,715 healthy patients in the Nashville area between 1996 and 1999 to the military’s cardiology outreach screening program.
The patients underwent a calcium scan, and also provided a detailed history of their heart risk factors.
Researchers monitored the participants for roughly 15 years, taking special note of the 936 patients who died.
Analysis revealed the risk of premature death steadily increased with the amount of calcium deposits found in a person’s major arteries.
CBS News reported on the study, “People with the largest amounts of calcium in their arteries carry an early death risk that is six times greater than those with no calcium deposits, researchers found in a 15-year study of nearly 10,000 patients.”
According to the CBS News report, patients with only small levels of arterial calcium still had a 68 percent increased overall risk of death compared with patients with no calcium deposits in their arteries.
“Calcium scans are currently used to help doctors determine the best treatment for patients who have no heart symptoms but do have high cholesterol or a family history of heart problems. This study confirms their usefulness in that regard,” Dr. William Zoghbi, past president of the American College of Cardiology and head of cardiovascular imaging for Houston Methodist Hospital, told CBS News.
“Calcium scoring really is the earliest marker in the development of hardening of the arteries in people who have no symptoms,” Zoghbi said.
The lead author of the study, Leslie Shaw, a professor of cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta, said, “The test is a very potent motivator.”
“The results of a calcium scan can be reassuring for people with few or no calcium deposits, and can provide people with high calcium levels with added impetus to take better care of themselves,” Shaw explained.
“People with many calcium deposits can improve their long-term prospects by eating right, exercising, and taking medication to treat heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes,” Shaw said.
Shaw believes the calcium scans ultimately could become part of a person’s regular physical exam, as common as blood cholesterol tests.
The calcium scans generally cost around $100-$200.