(dailyRx News) When calcium builds up in blood vessels it increases the risk of heart disease, including the risk of heart attack. It may also be linked to brain changes that increase the risk of stroke and dementia.
The amount of hardened and calcified plaque in blood vessels also may provide additional information about the extent of brain changes than a traditional ultrasound to measure plaque in the carotid artery.
Dr. Meike W. Vernooij, senior study author and assistant professor of epidemiology and radiology at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said that the relationship between calcium in hardened plaque and changes in the brain is in addition to classic heart risk factors including hypertension, smoking and diabetes.
Researchers followed 885 people with an average age 67 who participated in the Rotterdam Study, designed to better understand predictors of stroke and dementia. CT scans were used to measure calcification in four blood vessel areas.
Investigators also took MRI images of the brain to view microbleeds, small brain infarctions and bright areas called white matter lesions, commonly found in patients with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Researchers found that there may be no immediate symptoms, but that over the long term the calcium is associated with worsening cognitive performance. They also discovered that the amount of calcification in vessels closer to the brain had the strongest relationship to MRI markers of vascular brain disease.
Dr. Vernooij said the study also contributes to the belief that white matter lesions result from disease in smaller intracranial vessels, while small brain infarctions are believed to be caused by larger vessel disease.
He said that using CT scans to screen patients to determine dementia risk is still a long way off, but said scans may provide additional, helpful information beyond the reason for the exam.
The research was published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association.