Fast CT Scan May Predict Individual’s Risk of Dying Early from Diabetes

Off the heels of a test that claims to be able to predict early death from heart disease, a new test says it can predict early death from diabetes.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers have followed nearly 1,500 patients as part of a diabetes heart study for a period of 13 years.  As original study participants began to die, the researchers sought to understand why – and if there were any warning signs.

Diabetes, which affects more than 25 million Americans, puts people at an increased risk of developing heart and vascular disease.  At least 60 percent of diabetes patients ultimately die of a vascular event like heart attack or stroke.

Doctors have long known that a high coronary artery calcium (CAC) score is a strong indicator of coronary heart disease.  The score provides a measure of how much calcified “plaque” is present in the heart’s blood vessels.

The plaque is measured with a gated CT scan which takes about 10 minutes to perform.

Among diabetes patients, researchers found a wide range of CAC scores of the arteries and the heart, from individuals with none at all to those whose entire vessels were nearly completely calcified.

“We saw a dramatic risk of dying earlier in the people with highest levels of calcified plaque in their blood vessels,” said Donald Bowden, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Diabetes Research at Wake Forest Baptist and lead investigator, in a press release.

When comparing the group with the highest CAC scores to the group with lowest, the risk of dying was more than six times greater among those with high levels of calcified plaque, researchers found.

According to Bowden, the findings are important because diabetes is associated with many other medical problems, so it is crucial to identify who is at the highest risk and needs that most intensive medical monitoring and care.

“The striking magnitude of the risk suggests very strongly that other research samples should be evaluated, especially in individuals with diabetes,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Diabetes Care.