Coronary arteries, which are the large vessels that carry blood to the heart, can also be “attacked” by calcium, not just by fat and cholesterol. Calcium, depositing on the walls of these blood vessels, can fuel the atherosclerotic process and hinder the flow of blood to the heart muscle: ‘Calcification of the arteries is an element that helps to predict coronary heart disease and provides more information on the state of the cardiovascular system compared to traditional risk factors’, adds Dr. Giulio Stefanini, a cardiology researcher from Humanitas University.
99% of the calcium introduced with the diet settles on bones and teeth, whilst the remaining 1% dissolves in the blood. If the balance between calcium and some other chemical substances is altered, the mineral settles in the tissues, including lungs, kidneys, brain and the arteries.
Calcification of the arteries is a common example of the alteration of the regulatory mechanism of calcium metabolism and is a component of atherosclerotic disease: “It is difficult for arterial calcification to occur at a young age, while it is more common in more advanced age groups. By associating with coronary atherosclerosis – underlines Dr. Stefanini – it significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Moreover, the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries is associated with the presence of fat and cholesterol, while the opposite scenario does not always occur”.
The scan for coronaries
Therefore, cardiovascular risk can also be assessed by detecting the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries: ‘Calcification of the arteries alone is not a pathology, but a “flag” that signals the presence of atherosclerotic disease. In order to define the risk profile of cardiac disease further, it is possible to perform an examination by measuring the amount of calcium present: low-dose coronary CT’, recalls the expert.
The test provides the so-called “calcium score”: ‘This is a risk score: the higher this score, the more likely it is to have a heart disease: the doctor may request further tests such as coronarography to see if atherosclerotic plaques cause an important restriction of the vessels. A consistent calcification of the vessels complicates coronary stenosis treatment with angioplasty and may require a ‘cleaning’ intervention of the calcified arteries with the rotoablation.
Finally, the calcification of the arteries detected by the CT will represent a further reason to review the patient’s lifestyle that influences cardiovascular risk with reference to cigarette smoking, hypertension and unbalanced diet: ‘Intervening on all the risk factors, may also affect the calcification of blood vessels’, concludes the specialist.