Levels Linked to Strokes
(HealthScoutNews) -- Stroke victims have higher levels of calcium
in their coronary arteries, raising the possibility that calcium
levels could identify people at risk for strokes, new research
The Dutch study, the first of its kind, appears in the February
issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
A high level of calcium in the arteries that supply blood to
the heart is an indicator of atherosclerosis, a condition marked
by fatty deposits that can block blood vessels and lead to heart
attacks or strokes.
Doctors already believe high levels of coronary calcification
can help them predict heart attacks. However, it is not yet known
whether calcification can predict heart attacks better than other
known risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
The same test that has the potential to measure coronary calcium
levels as a predictor for heart attacks -- electron-beam CT scans
(an ultra-fast form of X-ray) -- could also identify people at
risk for stroke, the researchers say.
"Our results suggest that electron-beam CT scanning may
have the potential to identify subjects at increased risk of stroke,
as well as coronary heart disease," says Jacqueline C.M.
Witteman, one of the study's lead investigators and an associate
professor of epidemiology in the department of epidemiology and
biostatistics at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
The researchers, led by Witteman and Rozemarijn Vliegenthart,
also of Erasmus Medical Center, looked at 2,013 elderly residents
of the city of Rotterdam, 50 of whom were stroke survivors. All
underwent an electron-beam CT scan, and were assigned calcium
scores based on the amount of calcium in their coronary arteries.
The relationship between calcium levels and stroke was clear:
Subjects who had calcium scores between 101 and 500 were two times
more likely to have suffered a stroke than those with scores between
0 and 100. And subjects who scored above 500 were three times
more likely to have had a stroke, compared with subjects who scored
between 0 and 100.
The findings also point to the close ties between heart disease
"They appear to be two different manifestations of one
underlying disease process, rather than two different diseases,"
says Dr. Lawrence M. Brass, spokesman for the National Stroke
Association and a professor of neurology at Yale University School
of Medicine. "These two diseases seem to be much more closely
aligned than we treat them clinically."
"Our findings support the view that similar processes underlie
coronary heart disease and stroke," Witteman says, and this
could have important implications for how both diseases are detected.
The results may also mean stroke victims are at a higher risk
for heart problems down the line.
Although Brass says he is not going to start ordering calcification
tests for patients who are stroke victims, he does consider the
Dutch findings a necessary wake-up call.
"After a stroke, you really need to pay a lot of attention
to what's going on in the heart," he says. "We're missing
an opportunity to educate and target a group at high risk for
stroke to get them into the hospital in a time frame where we
can make a difference."
Because this study only looked at individuals who had already
had strokes, more research is needed to determine if people with
high levels of calcification are at increased risk of having a
"The important question -- whether healthy subjects with
a large amount of coronary calcification are at increased risk
of future stroke -- still needs to be answered," says Witteman.
Using the same group of volunteers, Witteman and her colleagues
are next planning to examine whether this is, in fact, the case.
What To Do: The National
Stroke Association has reams of information on stroke. And
check out the American
Heart Association for information on heart disease.
Reference Source 101