The rate of heart disease among women in the U.S. is increasing – with one in five women having some form of heart disease. A new study presented earlier this month at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting shows that a mammogram, a widely used breast cancer screening test, could help detect early signs of heart disease.

Dr. Daisy Lazarous, MD

Women often experience different symptoms than men do when having a heart attack, and women are more likely to die after a heart attack than are men, making it extremely important to recognize risk factors for heart disease before they lead to a heart attack, explained Daisy F. Lazarous, MD, a cardiologist with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group.

Calcium in Arteries of Breast Linked to Calcium Buildup in Heart

The study confirmed previous research suggesting a link between the amount of calcium in the arteries of the breast and calcium buildup in the heart arteries. Researchers led by Harvey Hecht, MD, director of Cardiovascular Imaging at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital examined 292 women who had both a mammogram and a CT scan of the chest.

For the first time, the researchers were able to show a direct relationship between the amount of calcium in the breast and calcium buildup in the heart arteries. The buildup of calcium, as well as fat and cholesterol, in the heart arteries eventually leads to heart attack or stroke.

Seventy percent of the women who showed calcium in their breast arteries on the mammogram also had calcium buildup in their heart arteries. With 37 million women in the U.S. already going for mammograms annually, these findings have folks wondering what role mammograms may eventually play in the early detection of heart disease risk factors for women.

More Studies Needed to Confirm Findings

“It is important to note that this is a small study that needs to be confirmed with larger trials involving more patients,” noted Dr. Lazarous. “It’s too early at this point to rely on mammograms to detect heart disease risk, but this study is a good indicator for future research that mammograms could be helpful for women’s heart health.”

“For now, the best thing that women can do to protect their hearts is seek guidance from their physician about how to reduce their risk for heart disease, along with eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and not smoking,” added Dr. Lazarous.

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Sources: Science Daily, The Wall Street Journal