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Please welcome “Coronary calcium ” in non obstructive CAD !

Posted Jan 05 2011 12:40pm

Some say medicine is a funny science . . .  it is true  at times. It will remain so , as long as we convert  a fact into a myth and a myth into a fact at our convenience . It  is  often   fueled  by the  whims and fancies of modern research  ! This phenomenon is happening in a regular  fashion  for  many decades now.

The number one killer disease of heart  is  the atherosclerosis  . Atherosclerosis means hardening  of arteries. The advent of coronary  calcium score with CT scans ,  it became a craze among many physicians . (It was   replaced later  by 64 /128 slice MDCT with unprecedented  commercial over tones !)

How can we  conquer the atherosclerosis ?   when the enigma of calcium in coronary artery is yet  to be solved.

The next few decades will be crucial   as  we are  trying to find answer to the following question .

Is  coronary calcium  good ,  bad or neutral   in CAD  ?

This article in American journal article begins the new year 2011  with good news for people , who show some calcium in their plaques.

What makes a plaque vulnerable ?

Plaque contents , it’s distribution and consistency make it vulnerable. Soft spots  formed by   lipids   may  result in  plaque cracks and fissure.   Semi solid  , mixed  ,  gel like soft  plaques   are dangerously prone for  rupture . Oxidation of LDL,  LDL  liquefaction and tissue metalloprotinase , thickness of fibrin caps , all promote softening.  If none of above  mechanism is operative in a given patient , the   plaque becomes  stiff and hard.

Calcification is the ultimate in hardening . Calcified plaque  is resistant to mechanical deformation.If  stiff  plaques   are less vulnerable , hard plaques ( ie calcified  plaques ) must be least  vulnerable . Calcification   can be called an end result of coronary atherosclerosis.

So , calcified  coronary artery  can be referred to as  a failed  mission of  atherosclerosis .It is  equivalent to  death  of atherosclerosis and denotes the end process of this dreaded disease process.

Calcification tames atherosclerosis  in it’s own den

What is the implication of a stiff hard, sharp calcified plaque lining  (or even projecting ) in the coronary lumen ?

As this study has shown , calcium in the walls of coronary artery is innocuous  . Of course , calcium should not be dense and obstruct the blood flow . This will  require  intervention. Many  consider , calcium as  a foreign body in the coronary artery . But the prevalent understanding is ,  presence of non obstructive calcium  is often  a  non issue or in fact a welcome issue in some.

After all , millions of  human beings  happily roam around  with the hardest possible substance  lining their  coronary artery called  stents.

Caution about calcium

This article does not portray calcium as a healing molecule in  CAD . In  the realistic senseit is  too complex to make such a generalization.  The  message is  , calcified lesions are less likely to result in acute coronary  events than soft , non calcified lesions.

It is well known ,  calcium can be problematic for the interventional  cardiologists  .It makes life tough for them in deploying  stents. Calcium rich lesions exerts  radial force in a diagonally opposite direction and interferes with stent approximation.

It is also believed localised , sharp calcium crystals may tear a plaque  and cause   plaque dissections. This  happens if the calcium is lying in an eccentric fashion overhanging the shoulder region of the plaque   abutting a soft spot.

Final message

It is now clear ,  why calcium  score in CT scans  failed miserably to predict  high risk subsets of CAD. In spite of repeated studies  the researchers failed  to show a positive correlation .  The studies are flawed  as they  were trying to look for a positive correlation  which is non existent . In fact , the above study seems to suggest calcium  score may indeed  predict low risk individuals!


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