New study aims to identify people at risk for heart disease before developing problems

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A coronary artery calcium (CAC) score is obtained from a CT scan of your heart. It measures how much calcium is present in the large blood vessels, known as coronary arteries, that feed your heart.

Your CAC score is a number. Higher numbers mean that there is more calcium buildup in your blood vessels. This gives you a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

When calcium and other plaque build up in the walls of a blood vessel, the opening that blood travels through gets smaller. This makes it easier for blood vessels to become blocked. When a blockage happens in a blood vessel that feeds the heart, it’s called a heart attack. If it happens in a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it’s called a stroke.

Researchers from the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute are launching one of the largest and most ambitious research initiatives ever undertaken in the state of Utah to test a new standard of care to better identify and treat people at risk of having a heart attack – and to potentially stop it before they ever have one.

Findings from the first-of-its-kind study, which will involve more than 90,000 people in Utah, could possibly change the way cardiovascular-related diseases are diagnosed in the future – and potentially save thousands of lives due to more accurate screening and better diagnosis.

The Intermountain Coronary Calcium study, or CorCal study for short, is seeking to determine the best way to proactively identify patients who may be at high risk for coronary heart disease to prevent a future heart event and is unique as participants will register online.

Developing an accurate test and standard of care to determine a person’s risk of heart disease is vital. Heart disease is the single largest killer of American men and women – and about one-third of all heart-related deaths happen in people with no warning symptoms.

For the study, researchers will test the effectiveness of presently existing standard heart prevention guidelines (centered around cholesterol testing) compared to a novel strategy that includes performing a low-dose CT scan of the heart to screen for the buildup of calcium in the arteries.

“The CorCal study will determine if adding a CT scan to the tests we already do will help to more accurately identify people that are at risk of a heart attack or stroke,” said J. Brent Muhlestein, principal investigator of the study and co-director of cardiovascular research at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.

What do Coronary Artery Calcium Scores Mean?

CAC score = 0 (Zero)

No plaque can be seen. Your risk of having an event, such as a heart attack or stroke, is very low. The CorCal study does not recommend treatment with medication unless your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is very high in your blood (greater than or equal to 190).

CAC score = 1 to 100

A small amount of plaque is present in the arteries of your heart. This means you have a slightly increased risk of having an event such as a heart attack or stroke. This is a borderline CAC score. Some people need treatment at this stage and others do not. It will depend on your other risk factors, such as your gender or age.

CAC score = 101 to 400

A large amount of plaque is present in the arteries of your heart. This means you have a moderately increased risk of having an event such as a heart attack or stroke. The CorCal study recommends that you take a high-intensity statin to lower your risk.

CAC score = 400+

A very high amount of plaque is present in the arteries of your heart. This means you have a
high risk of having an event such as a heart attack or stroke. The CorCal study recommends that you take a high-intensity statin.

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