X-rays could help detect early signs of heart disease, study finds

People with abdominal aortic calcification have a two- to four-times higher risk of a future cardiovascular event, according to a study published Jan. 13 in Journal of the American Heart Association. The condition, a build-up of calcium in the abdominal aorta, a major artery, is often detected through medical imaging modalities such as X-rays, highlighting an opportunity for early intervention. 

An international team of researchers based out of Edith Cowan University in Australia analyzed 52 studies with more than 36,092 participants and found that people with AAC have a significantly increased risk of heart attack or stroke, among other cardiovascular events. The risk increased for those with an extensive amount of calcium in the blood vessel wall, and among those with chronic kidney disease. 

"The abdominal aorta is one of the first sites where the build-up of calcium in the arteries can occur — even before the heart," said Dr. Josh Lewis, lead study author. "If we pick this up early, we can intervene and implement lifestyle changes and medication changes to help stop the condition progressing." 

The findings suggest that "low-cost, widely available imaging modalities can be used to identify people at a clinically significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and events," the study said. 

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