Arterial plaque test may accurately predict risk for cardiovascular complications among type 2 diabetics

Testing for coronary artery calcium levels may be an effective way to identify type 2 diabetes patients who are at the greatest risk of dying at a young age from a cardiovascular event, according to the results of a new study out of Wake Forest University.

Individuals with type 2 diabetes are already at a greater risk than the general public of dying from heart disease. The researchers said that more than 60 percent of those with the condition will eventually succumb to cardiovascular problems. However, identifying the diabetics who are the greatest risk has been difficult.

Yet after following a group of 1,500 diabetic patients for more than 13 years, the researchers reported in the journal Diabetes Care that coronary artery calcium levels accurately predicted which participants were going to die at a young age and which lived healthier lives. The results showed that those with the highest levels of calcification were six times more likely to die young than those with none.

"The difference in risk that we revealed is striking," said Donald Bowden, PhD, the lead author of the study. "It's in a group of people who are already at risk, but the coronary artery calcium level really rather dramatically differentiates risk between people within this high risk group."

This is good news, the researchers said, because calcium levels can be gauged with a simple computed tomography scan that takes as little as 10 minutes to perform and costs just $200. The procedure is covered by most insurers.

Identifying those with the highest levels of coronary artery calcium is important because there is a wide range of plaque buildup within the diabetic community. The researchers said that they tested some participants who had almost no calcium in their veins, while others had significant amounts of plaque buildup.