Atherosclerosis is the commonest cause of death in Australia. Cardiovascular (CV) risk calculators have an important role in preventative cardiology, although they are are strongly age-dependent and designed to identify individuals at high risk of an imminent event. The imprecision around “intermediate” or “low” risk generates therapeutic uncertainty, and a significant proportion of patients presenting with myocardial infarction come from these groups, often with no warning. This highlights a conundrum: “Low” risk does not mean “no” risk.

A fresh approach may be required to address the clinical conundrum around CV preventative approaches in non-high-risk individuals. While probabilistic calculators do not measure atherosclerosis, calculation of Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) scores by low-dose computed tomography (CT) can provide a snapshot of atherosclerotic burden. In intermediate-risk individuals, CAC is well-established as an aid to CV risk prediction. Although CAC scoring in low-risk asymptomatic people may be considered controversial, CAC has emerged as the single best predictor of CV events in asymptomatic individuals, independent of traditional risk factor calculators. Therefore, apart from the contribution of age and sex, the somewhat arbitrary distinction between “intermediate” and “low” CV risk using probabilistic calculators may need to be reconsidered. A zero CAC score has a very low future event rate and non-zero CAC scores are associated with a progressive, graded increase in risk as the CAC score rises.

Here, we examine the evidence for CAC screening in low-risk individuals, and propose more widespread use of CAC using simple new model intended to enhance established CV risk prediction equations.


Coronary artery calcium, CACS, CT coronary angiography, Cardiovascular risk

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Available for download on Friday, December 01, 2023

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