The build-up of calcium in a major artery outside of the heart could predict future heart attack or stroke according to an Edith Cowan University-led study.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the research could help doctors identify people at risk of cardiovascular disease years before symptoms arise.
Analysing 52 previous studies, the international team of researchers found that people who have abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) have a two to four times higher risk of a future cardiovascular event.
The study also found the more extensive the calcium in the blood vessel wall, the greater the risk of future cardiovascular events and people with AAC and chronic kidney disease were at even greater risk than those from the general population with AAC.
Calcium can build up in the blood vessel wall and harden the arteries, blocking blood supply or causing plaque rupture, which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
The factors contributing to artery calcification include poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and genetics.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Josh Lewis from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, and Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, says the findings offer important clues for cardiovascular health.
“Heart disease is often a silent killer as many people don’t know they are at risk or that they have the early warning signs, such as abdominal or coronary artery calcification,” he said.
“The abdominal aorta is one of the first sites where the build-up of calcium in the arteries can occur – even before the heart. If we pick this up early, we can intervene and implement lifestyle and medication changes to help stop the condition progressing.”