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Heart Calcium Build-Up Increases Risk of Early Death

A man exercises at Pier A Park in Hoboken, New Jersey, Jan. 15, 2014. Atherosclerosis, or calcium deposits, in the cardiac arteries of young people have been found to dramatically shorten life expectancy, a new study has found.
Heart Calcium Build-Up at Young Age Increases Risk of Early Death
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A new study suggests that even small amounts of calcium in the arteries of young people can predict a heart attack or death within 12 years.

Researchers say it was easy to recognize the calcium in the arteries, which carry blood from the heart through the body. They also say the findings can be a “call to action” for doctors and patients to begin taking preventative action.

Dr. Jeff Carr is an expert on hearts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee.

“Even if it’s just one little dot or a very low what’s called a calcium score are at markedly elevated risk. So if you have any amount of coronary calcium, your risk increases over the next 10 to 15 years by about 10 percent. If you have a lot, your risk increases significantly and your chance of dying over those next years is approximately 22 percent.”

Dr. Carr was the lead writer of a report on the study, which was published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

The study began in 1985. It involved about 5,000 people at four centers in the United States. The people were between 18 and 30 years of age at the time.

About 3,300 African-American and white young adults were given a computerized tomography (CT) scan as part of the study. Researchers used the CT images to learn if any of the subjects had atherosclerosis before the study began.

The other subjects were followed based on risk factors for a heart attack.

Researchers said they found evidence of atherosclerosis in about 30 percent of those who had the CT scan.

The researchers followed up on the group 12 years after the study began. At that time, doctors noted a higher-than-normal death rate among those with the calcium deposits.

Carr said it is not necessary to perform a CT scan on everyone to be able to predict their risk of death from a heart attack. He said a doctor can often predict that risk just by examining a person.

“Risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol -- even when modestly elevated in early adult life in these people at high risk -- may provide (an) opportunity to identify them and treat risk factors more aggressively, and just be able to potentially lower the risk of future heart attacks that we saw over the past 15 years in the cohort.”

Carr said people at risk of heart disease should consider taking medicines designed to lower high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Losing weight and stopping smoking also helps, he said. So does eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, and less red meat.

I’m Anna Mateo.

VOA Health Correspondent Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

calcium – n. a substance that is found in most plants and animals and that is especially important in people for strong healthy bones

artery – n. any one of the tubes that carry blood from the heart to all parts of the body

atherosclerosis – n. a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. (Plaque is a harmful material that can form in arteries and be a cause of heart disease.)

cardiac – adj. of or relating to the heart

dot – n. a small amount

marked – adj. very noticeable

elevated – adj. higher than normal

coronary – adj. of or relating to the heart and especially to the vessels that supply blood to the heart

risk factor – n. something that increases risk

cholesterol – n. a substance that is found in the bodies of people and animals

modest – adj. not very large in size or amount

cohort – n. a group of people used in a study who have something (such as age or social class) in common

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