Despite added costs, experts endorse more comprehensive screenings that include non-invasive imaging to identify adults at increased risk for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.
Published in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, this paper highlights the potential benefits of routine heart imaging in adults. Through non-invasive CT scans, doctors can assess the build-up of calcium in the heart’s arteries, called coronary artery calcium. While coronary artery calcium (or CAC) can exist even in “healthy” patients without heart disease, CAC significantly increases risk for future heart events.
But as authors explain, CAC predicts a lot more than just heart risks. According to results of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, high levels of CAC have been linked to increased risk for cancer, kidney disease, pneumonia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and even hip fractures. Evidence suggests that CAC is very useful in predicting 10-year risk for developing these conditions. As such, authors describe CAC as having limitless possibilities for identifying patients at risk for heart disease and other serious conditions.
Of course, authors also acknowledge the recent controversy around routine imaging to screen for heart disease. Currently, imaging to assess the build-up of CAC is not considered a reimbursable procedure. And not all experts are convinced that routine imaging in all adults is practical or needed. With future research and discussion, however, authors hope that CAC will become part of the standard screening process for heart disease.