Risk of death
Lead researcher Dr Joshua Lewis said that the women who showed a build-up of calcium on their aorta were at a higher risk of suffering cardiovascular hospitalisations and death in the 15 years following their scans.
According to Dr Lewis, not only were the women with calcium in their aorta more likely to have suffered a cardiovascular event in the subsequent 15 years, they were also at a higher risk of dying from any cause.
"This study shows that in addition to indicating the risk of fracture, bone density scans have the capacity to determine the long-term likelihood of cardiovascular disease. This makes bone density testing even more useful as a screening tool.
If we can give people early warning that they are at an increased risk of suffering a cardiovascular event, we can help them to make the lifestyle changes that can then lower their future risk," says Dr Lewis.
Work is now commencing to identify the features of calcification most strongly related to patients' risk of heart attack or stroke. Researchers hope to develop an algorithm that automatically detects the aortic calcium build-up in bone density scans.
"This will allow bone density scans to become a very powerful tool for preventing future cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death for Australians," says Dr Lewis.
Dr Lewis worked with researchers from the Universities of Sydney, Western Australia, Minnesota and Harvard Medical School on the project.
'Long-term atherosclerotic vascular disease risk and prognosis in elderly women with abdominal aortic calcification on lateral spine images captured during bone density testing: A prospective study' is available on the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research website.