Coronary artery calcium and its relationship to coronary artery disease

Cardiol Clin. 2003 Nov;21(4):521-34. doi: 10.1016/s0733-8651(03)00088-2.


Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) and the recent generation of multi-slice computed tomography scanners (MSCT) permit high-resolution imaging of the beating heart and the coronary arteries. The visualization of coronary calcium offers the opportunity to non-invasively obtain direct information on coronary anatomy and plaque burden. For clinical purposes, coronary calcium represents the presence of arteriosclerotic plaques. Coronary calcium is deposited in an actively regulated process related to lipid content of and apoptosis within coronary plaques. The amount of coronary calcium is related to the extent of coronary plaque disease, which has substantial diagnostic and prognostic implications. Visualization of coronary calcium by cardiac CT allows to non-invasively detect and localize coronary plaques and describe their distribution in the coronary tree. Approximately 50% to 70% of all plaques are calcified. Calcium cannot be used to reliably identify plaques at risk for developing complications such as rupture or erosion with ensuing thrombus formation. However, data are accumulating that indicate that calcium is an indicator of coronary arteriosclerotic disease activity. A scan negative for coronary calcium has a high negative predictive value indicating absence of stenotic coronary artery disease and an excellent short- to mid-term prognosis. Studies using serial CT scans indicate that the annual progression of coronary calcium varies between 30% to 50% in symptomatic or high-risk individuals and 0% to 20% in patients treated effectively with lipid-lowering medication. An increased rate of progression of coronary calcium seems to indicate a substantially increased risk for adverse cardiac events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / analysis*
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Coronary Angiography
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnosis*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Coronary Vessels / chemistry*
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Disease Progression
  • Endosonography
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Calcium