Progression of coronary artery calcification seems to be inevitable, but predictable - results of the Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) study

Eur Heart J. 2014 Nov 7;35(42):2960-71. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu288. Epub 2014 Jul 25.


Aim: Coronary artery calcification (CAC), as a sign of atherosclerosis, can be detected and progression quantified using computed tomography (CT). We develop a tool for predicting CAC progression.

Methods and results: In 3481 participants (45-74 years, 53.1% women) CAC percentiles at baseline (CACb) and after five years (CAC₅y) were evaluated, demonstrating progression along gender-specific percentiles, which showed exponentially shaped age-dependence. Using quantile regression on the log-scale (log(CACb+1)) we developed a tool to individually predict CAC₅y, and compared to observed CAC₅y. The difference between observed and predicted CAC₅y (log-scale, mean±SD) was 0.08±1.11 and 0.06±1.29 in men and women. Agreement reached a kappa-value of 0.746 (95% confidence interval: 0.732-0.760) and concordance correlation (log-scale) of 0.886 (0.879-0.893). Explained variance of observed by predicted log(CAC₅y+1) was 80.1% and 72.0% in men and women, and 81.0 and 73.6% including baseline risk factors. Evaluating the tool in 1940 individuals with CACb>0 and CACb<400 at baseline, of whom 242 (12.5%) developed CAC₅y>400, yielded a sensitivity of 59.5%, specificity 96.1%, (+) and (-) predictive values of 68.3% and 94.3%. A pre-defined acceptance range around predicted CAC₅y contained 68.1% of observed CAC₅y; only 20% were expected by chance. Age, blood pressure, lipid-lowering medication, diabetes, and smoking contributed to progression above the acceptance range in men and, excepting age, in women.

Conclusion: CAC nearly inevitably progresses with limited influence of cardiovascular risk factors. This allowed the development of a mathematical tool for prediction of individual CAC progression, enabling anticipation of the age when CAC thresholds of high risk are reached.

Keywords: CT; Coronary artery calcification; Epidemiology; Heinz Nixdorf Recall study; Imaging; Progression of atherosclerosis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnosis*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / mortality
  • Disease Progression
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Vascular Calcification / diagnosis*
  • Vascular Calcification / mortality