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Oct 26, 2012

Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes Increase Risk for Atherosclerosis

Risk factors, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, are associated with the development of CAC and increased risk for cardiac events.

Coronary artery calcification (CAC) is the build-up of calcium in the arteries, which can cause blood vessels to narrow and lead to the development of heart disease. Although many factors can increase an individual’s chance of having CAC, such as having diabetes or being overweight, to what degree these factors impact cardiovascular risk is not as clear. How much does having diabetes or other risk factors increase risk of CAC? And does having CAC translate to increased risk for heart attack and stroke?

A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology helps get to the bottom of these questions. This study utilized data from MESA — the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis — containing health information on more than 5,600 adults between the ages of 45 and 84, all of whom were free of heart disease at the beginning of the study. After following participants for an average of nearly two and a half years, researchers found that individuals with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or both were 1.7 to 1.9 times as likely to develop CAC than patients with neither of these conditions. Patients having both metabolic syndrome and diabetes were at greatest risk of developing CAC. And perhaps most interesting, this study demonstrated that the progression of CAC was associated with subsequent cardiac events, such as heart attack and stroke.

Based on these findings, it is clear that risk factors, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, are associated with the development of CAC and increased risk for cardiac events. And the more cardiovascular risk factors and individual has, the greater their CAC and cardiovascular risk. However, additional research is needed to better understand the relationship between cardiovascular risk and CAC, and whether better identification of high-risk individuals and more aggressive therapies might help improve patient outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How is CAC detected?

  • CAC is detected using a special X-ray called a cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan, which can find build-up of calcium on the walls of the arteries.