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Int J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2011 Jul;27(6):805-12. doi: 10.1007/s10554-010-9730-0. Epub 2010 Oct 22.

The presence, characterization and prognosis of coronary plaques among patients with zero coronary calcium scores.

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St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY 10025, USA.


Patients with coronary artery calcium (CAC) scores of zero are generally considered not to have atherosclerosis. Recent studies involving computed tomography coronary angiography (CTCA) challenge this assumption. This goal of the present study is to assess the frequency, morphology, location, and the prognosis of patients with plaque detected on CTCA and zero CAC. 1,119 patients (51 ± 12 years, 52% male) with a zero CAC score during CTCA study were retrospectively identified. The CTCA studies were assessed for the presence, morphology, location and severity of all coronary plaques. All-cause mortality was assessed. The prevalence of coronary plaque was 13% (147 patients). Among the 212 plaques identified 154 (73%) were non-calcified, 28 (13%) were calcified, and 30 (14%) were of mixed morphology. Notably, ≥70% stenosis was noted among only 0.4% of all patients. ROC analysis revealed that coronary artery disease risk factors did not add to the prediction of plaque among our patients. Over a mean follow-up of 2.5 ± 0.6 years there were 4 deaths (0.4%), all in patients without coronary plaque on CTCA. The presence of coronary plaque is not uncommon among patients with zero CAC scores. These plaques were rarely associated with hemodynamically significant stenoses and were associated with an excellent prognosis. Clinical factors do not appear to be useful in predicting which patients with zero CAC scores have undetected coronary plaque.

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