Risk Factors In Young Adulthood Significantly Raise Risk Of Coronary Calcium Later On

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Coronary Calcium

Having above optimal levels of risk factors for heart disease between the ages of 18 and 30 can mean a two to three times greater risk of later developing coronary calcium, a strong predictor of heart disease.

Although on average, heart disease risk factors are less common in young adulthood, elevated risk factors levels at this age predict the development of later asymptomatic heart disease better than levels measured later when they are typically higher. Smoking, having an elevated body mass index (BMI), or having above optimal levels of blood pressure, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and blood sugar in early adulthood are linked to the development of calcium deposits in the arteries of the heart 15 years later. Other studies have found that the amount of coronary calcium correlates with the amount of atherosclerosis or hardening of the coronary arteries and is related to the likelihood of developing heart disease in the future. Measuring coronary calcium is a noninvasive way of determining heart disease before it becomes symptomatic.

Results of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study are published in the April 24, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which is posted online on April 17.

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"These findings remind us that we should begin assessing our heart disease risk as early as possible, with a focus on prevention," said Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., NHLBI Director. "All of the risk factors we assessed are modifiable. Young adults who achieve and maintain optimal risk factor levels early on could enter middle age with healthy hearts."

The CARDIA study initially measured risk factor levels in 1985 in a group of 5,115 African American and white young adults, ages 18 to 30, who were then followed for 15 years. The study took place in four U.S. cities: Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis, Minn., and Oakland, Calif.

For young adults with above optimal levels of risk factors, the specific risk of developing coronary calcium was:

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