Coronary artery wall thickness is an independent marker for heart disease risk in women

Coronary artery wall thickness—identified on MRI—is an independent indicator for heart disease risk in women, reported authors of a new study published in the inaugural issue of Radiology: Cardiothoracic Imaging. The findings may serve as an opportunity for early intervention.

Cardiovascular risk assessment techniques, such as Framingham Risk Score and coronary CT angiography (CCTA) have previously established limitations for women.  

Cardiac MRI has risen in popularity for its ability to detect coronary artery disease earlier than other modalities, wrote lead author Khaled Z. Abd-Elmoniem, PhD, MHS, from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in an RSNA news release.

"Despite the significant advances in CCTA technology, it is not appropriate to send all asymptomatic people to CCTA because of the exposure to radiation and chemical dyes used for imaging," Abd-Elmoniem added. "MRI might be a safe alternative that can be used more broadly to assist in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease without exposing patients to a procedure that carries some risk. The advantage of MRI in this situation is that it can tell us that there is a thickening before stenosis, which is difficult to do with CCTA."

The authors evaluated a refined cardiac MRI method to assess coronary artery disease in 62 women and 62 men with low to intermediate risks based on individual Framingham scores, which use age, sex and other factors to estimate CVD risk.

Abd-Elmoniem et al. found an obvious difference between the two genders.

"When we separated the patients into men and women, coronary artery disease in men was, as expected, associated with aging and a high Framingham score," Abd-Elmoniem added. "However, in women, both age and the Framingham score were not factors. Vessel wall thickness, as measured by MRI, was the strongest variable associated with coronary artery disease."

Although more evidence is required, the authors noted, the results show MRI may eventually be used to manage coronary artery disease in women.

"This is a wonderful example of how a multidisciplinary team of biomedical engineers and radiologists can expedite translational research to clinical radiological applications," Abd-Elmoniem concluded.