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New screening tool can reportedly predict heart attacks and strokes

Cardiovascular disease kills almost 18 million people each year.

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Young woman in pajamas having heart attack
(Photo by ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

A new screening tool that predicts heart attacks and strokes has been developed by scientists.

The simple test looks for enlargements of the aorta - the largest vessel in the body. It carries blood pumped out by the heart to all the other organs.

Changes raise the risk by up to a third - with women most vulnerable. The finding is based on over 2,000 older people tracked for around a decade.

Senior author Dr Maryam Kavousi, of University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, said: "While enlargement of the thoracic aorta is a frequent finding in clinical practice, few longitudinal data regarding its long-term prognosis for major cardiovascular disease outcomes at the population level exist."

It rises from the left ventricle of the heart into the back of the chest - growing as we age.

But differences in size and structure have a systemic nature and biological processes linked to cardiovascular disease.

A greater diameter was significantly associated with increased risk of adverse outcomes - including stroke, heart attack and death - in both sexes.

In women, it led to 33 percent higher mortality rates - after taking BMI (body mass index) into account. It indicates the major artery deteriorates faster than in men.

Dr. Kavousi said: "Ageing could affect aortic health and structure more adversely in women than in men."

The Dutch participants underwent CT scans between 2003 and 2006 and were followed for nine years, on average.

Dr. Kavousi said: "Our results suggest that imaging-based assessment of diameter of the thoracic aorta can be considered as a risk marker for future cardiovascular disease."

The phenomenon opens the door to effective, sex-specific prevention strategies. Cardiovascular disease is the world's number one killer.

In the UK, over 40s are currently eligible to have their heart health assessed every five years.

Dr. Kavousi said: "As the aortic diameter is significantly related to body size, use of aortic diameters indexed for body measurements could improve its prognostic value for cardiovascular outcomes."

It could easily be added to existing screening techniques. The cardiac CT scans deployed are already commonly used to identify raised calcium levels in the blood.

The method could also become a routine part of CT-based lung cancer screening, said Dr. Kavousi.

The study, published in the journal Radiology, was based on single scans of a large group of the general population.

They were followed for incidence of cardiovascular disease and death. The researchers have recently repeated the assessment among surviving participants.

Dr. Kavousi added: "This provides an exciting and unique opportunity to study sex-specific risk profiles and patterns of growth in thoracic aorta in the general population."

Cardiovascular disease kills almost 18 million people each year. It causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK - more than 160,000, annually.

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