CT scan can help predict risk of heart attack, says Dutch research

CT scan can help predict risk of heart attack, says Dutch research

A CT scan of the coronary arteries is much better at predicting the risks of a heart attack than the current methods used, such as measuring the blood pressure and determining the cholesterol level. This has been shown by research carried out by Erasmus MC, published in the leading journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The prescription of drugs by physicians to prevent heart diseases in healthy people is currently based on a risk assessment. For people with more than a 20% chance of suffering from heart diseases within the coming 10 years, it is worthwhile reducing the risk using medication. For people with less than a 10% chance of suffering from heart diseases the use of drugs is generally not beneficial. For the intermediate group it is unclear what the best strategy is.

A risk assessment is carried out based on so-called risk factors, for example, blood pressure, cholesterol level and smoking. These known risk factors, however, do not give an accurate indication of the risk, according to epidemiologist Jacqueline Witteman. To this end, extensive research is currently being carried out on new risk factors to improve this assessment.

The research was carried out as part of the Rotterdam ERGO study among 5000 people aged 55 or older. The extent of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries was determined in all the participants using a CT scan. The results show that for 40 percent of the participants with an intermediate risk, the CT scan in addition to the usual risk factors resulted in a much more accurate risk assessment. The physician’s decision as to whether or not to prescribe medication is then easier to underpin.

“Despite the promising results there are also disadvantages to the CT scan, including the exposure to radiation and the considerable costs”, says researcher Maryam Kavousi: “Further research will therefore be necessary before screening using a CT scan becomes daily practice.”

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