Simple test can identify diabetes patients most at risk of heart disease

by Barbara Hewitt on December 25, 2012

Simple test can identify diabetes patients most at risk of heart disease

Doctors can now identify diabetes patients at high risk of developing heart disease by measuring the build up of calcium on the walls of the heart’s arteries, a new study has found.

The results of the research at Wake Forest Medical Centre, North Carolina in the United States could change the way diabetes sufferers are regarded in terms of cardiovascular disease. Current medical guidelines recommend treating all diabetes patients as high risk, but the Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) test can identify diabetes patients who are at very high risk of developing potentially fatal heart disease as well as those who are at low risk.

‘Our observations challenge accepted medical knowledge that all people with diabetes have the same risk. CAC is key in predicting the specific risk level,’ said Donald Bowden, professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest Baptist and senior author of the study, adding, ‘People at very high risk are 11 times more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases as compared to those at low risk. Diagnosing a more precise risk level should help doctors provide more effective treatments and hopefully improve outcomes’.

The community based Diabetes Heart Study was designed to determine if CAC provided additional information about cardiovascular disease and mortality beyond the Framingham Risk Score, the most commonly used assessment tool. A total of 1,123 people with type 2 diabetes between 34 to 86 years old were followed for an average of 7.4 years. The study participants were recruited from clinics in western North Carolina and reflect a cross section of families with diabetes affected members in the region.

Quote from DiabetesForum.com : “A number of research studies have demonstrated inflammation’s role in fueling plaque buildup, also known as atherosclerosis, which is the underlying cause of most heart attacks and strokes, but knowledge of which immune cells are key to this process has been limited – until now.”

CAC uses a CT scan to detect calcium build up in the arteries of the heart and, according to Bowden, the cost of the test is relatively low and the radiation exposure is about half of what someone would get in a year by just walking around. ‘Based on our study, we think that CAC should be added to the Framingham tool as the standard of care for all people with diabetes’ Bowden said.

The Wake Forest Baptist team hopes to conduct additional research on how adding CAC as a diagnostic tool for diabetics could affect treatment and outcomes.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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