Fact sheet

Fact Check: Is a coronary calcium score the best indicator of heart attack risk?

Heart disease
Speaking about the death of former Australian Ironman Dean Mercer at age 47, Sydney cardiologist Dr Ross Walker suggested people worried about their heart health should undergo a scan for coronary calcium as it is "the best predictive test for heart disease risk", and a better predictor of heart health than common health checks for blood pressure and cholesterol. RMIT ABC Fact Check found there is more to the story than Dr Walker's claim suggests. Studies conducted primarily in the US have shown that coronary calcium scans can identify heart disease in patients, with the resulting calcium "scores" having been found to correlate with future cardiovascular events. The Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand describes the test as a "robust" way to estimate future risk of cardiac events. By contrast, the sub-committee of the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council responsible for new and emerging technologies cautions that calcium scoring for predicting heart disease "is of unproven clinical benefit or utility". The sub-committee raised concerns about the radiation dose involved (the equivalent of 50 chest x-rays per scan) as well as the impact on downstream tests and treatments. Cardiologists contacted by Fact Check agreed the test was better at predicting heart attacks than traditional blood pressure or cholesterol checks, but were hesitant to back the test as strongly as Dr Walker.
Verdict: More to the story
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