Study: CT scans could help predict early death among diabetes patients

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — A common test may help predict early death among diabetes patients, a new study found.

According to research lead by Donald Bowden, director of the Center for Diabetes Research at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the examination of a patient's coronary artery calcium score — which measures the amount of calcified plaque buildup in blood vessels — through a computed tomography scan, or CT scan, could indicate the patient's risk of coronary heart disease, which can lead to premature death.

For the "Diabetes Heart Study," Bowden and colleagues followed nearly 1,500 patients with diabetes in North Carolina for about 13 years, gathering data on various aspects of the disease and how it affects individual health. The researchers separated the study participants into five groups, according to the amount of calcified plaque they had in their blood vessels at the beginning of the study. The health of those participants then was followed for an average of 7.4 years before researchers compared the data from those who died during the study with those who still were living.

"We saw a dramatic risk of dying earlier in the people with highest levels of calcified plaque in their blood vessels," Bowden and researchers said.

The new study appears in the May issue of Diabetes Care.

"People with diabetes are already at high risk of developing heart disease and experiencing an early death," Bowden said. "With this study, we've discovered that we can identify a subset of individuals within this high-risk group who are at even higher risk, and the means to do this is already widely available in the form of a CT scan — a relatively inexpensive and noninvasive test."

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