Heart disease is twice as common in diabetics as it is in the general population. In fact, 60% of all diabetics die as a result of a heart attack or stroke.
However, the publication, Diabetes Care, reports that a simple CT scan could identify those diabetics that are at greatest risk of early death due to heart disease. Donald Bowden, head of a research group at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre is reported as saying:''People with diabetes are already at high risk of developing heart disease and experiencing an early death. With this study, we have discovered that we can identify an subset of individuals within this high risk group who are at even higher risk, and the means to do this is already widely available in the form of a Computed Tomography (CT) scan – a relatively inexpensive and non-invasive test.''
Bowden's team investigated all aspects of the disease in 1,500 patients in North Carolina over a time span of 13 years. During the course of the research, the team looked for indicators that might give clues as to which patients might die early as a result of heart disease. It's already known that a high levels of calcified plaque in coronary arteries is a symptom of heart disease, as often diagnosed by a high Coronary Artery Calcium score (CAC).
Bowden saw that by dividing the 1000 study participants into five groups depending on how much calcification had built up in their arteries, over time, those with higher levels of calcified plaque died earlier:
''We saw a dramatic risk of dying earlier in the people with highest levels of calcified plaque in their blood vessels. When comparing the group with the highest amount of plaque to the group that had the lowest amount of calcified plaque, the risk of dying was more than six times greater in the group with high levels of calcified plaque.''
The findings are important as calcified plaque can be readily picked up by a specialised CT scan in a procedure that takes less than ten minutes. This means, in future, medical staff will be able to easily identify those diabetics most at risk and respond appropriately.