Post-mortem CT: is coronary angiography required in the presence of a high coronary artery calcium score?

Clin Radiol. 2019 Dec;74(12):926-932. doi: 10.1016/j.crad.2019.06.034. Epub 2019 Sep 13.


Aim: To test whether a high coronary artery score predicts that the subsequent post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) with angiography (PMCTA) will diagnose significant coronary artery disease (CAD); to test the diagnostic impact of assuming there is significant CAD based on a high coronary artery calcium (CAC) score alone; and (3) to test whether the clinical CAC score threshold (400) is the most accurate to make this prediction.

Materials and methods: CAC scoring and PMCTA were performed in cases of adult sudden natural death. Angiography was reviewed to determine if there was sufficient CAD to give as the cause of death. Data were analysed to test whether high calcium score predicts significant CAD.

Results: PMCTA with CAC score was successful in 100/104 PMCT examinations and in 87/100 angiography examinations (87%). Forty-six cases (46%) had a CAC score of >400, the clinical level of severe disease. CAD was given as the cause of death in 31 (67%) of these cases. Angiography was successful in 39 of these cases (84.7%) and showed severe CAD in all but one (97%). Twenty-five (25%) cases were diagnosed with a CAD death without a high CAC score.

Conclusion: Although CAC score can neither diagnose nor exclude death due to CAD, the addition of angiography adds little diagnostic information to a high CAC score. If PMCT investigation is to exclude trauma and provide a medical cause of death on the "balance of probabilities", angiography is not required when the calcium score >400. This could reduce the number of patients requiring angiography by almost 50%.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Calcinosis / diagnosis
  • Calcinosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Calcinosis / pathology
  • Cause of Death
  • Coronary Angiography*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnosis
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / pathology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • ROC Curve
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index