Visualising calcified coronary arteries may be wake-up call to change lifestyle

European Society of Cardiology (ESC)Patients who looked at images were more likely to stop smoking, lose weight and take statins

Embargoed for release:

15 June 2015 08:30 CEST (Paris)
15 June 2015 07:30 BST (London)
15 June 2015 02:30 EDT (New York)

Dubrovnik, Croatia – 15 June 2015: Looking at images of their own calcified coronary arteries may be a wake-up call for patients with newly diagnosed coronary artery disease to change their lifestyles, reveals new research. The study was presented today at EuroHeartCare 2015 by Rikke Elmose Mols, a nurse and PhD student in the Department of Cardiology at Aarhus University Hospital-Skejby in Denmark.

“It is my coronary artery and my coronary artery calcification and I am facing a real risk and challenge,” said one patient.

EuroHeartCare is the official annual meeting of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions (CCNAP) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The 2015 meeting is held 14 to 15 June in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in collaboration with the Croatian Association of Cardiology Nurses.

Ms Mols said: “Patients with non-obstructive coronary artery disease and hyperlipidaemia (high blood lipids) urgently need to improve their lifestyles and take lipid-lowering therapy to reduce their risk of future cardiovascular adverse events. Some patients call us after coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA)1 if the result is non-obstructive coronary artery disease. They are afraid of a heart attack and have questions about the prescribed lipid-lowering drugs and how to manage their increased risk.”

She added: “When patients receive a new diagnosis of non-obstructive coronary artery disease it might be a good time to motivate them to take their lipid-lowering therapy and adopt a healthy lifestyle. But until now there has not been a study on the impact of showing consecutive patients with atypical angina images of their calcified coronary arteries as a way to stimulate change.”

The aim of the current prospective, randomised controlled study was to assess the influence of visualisation of coronary artery calcification in addition to standard information about risk and lifestyle modification on plasma cholesterol concentrations and other risk factors in patients with hyperlipidaemia and a new diagnosis of non-obstructive coronary artery disease.

The study included 189 patients with hyperlipidaemia who had undergone a CTA of their coronary arteries and been diagnosed with non-obstructive coronary artery disease. Patients were prospectively randomised in a 1:1 fashion to the intervention or to standard follow up in general practice which consisted of information about risk and lifestyle modification. Risk factors were measured at baseline and 6 months.

The intervention was a 25 minute consultation with a nurse. The first 15 minutes focused on communication of risk. Patients were shown a CT image of their calcified coronary arteries. The nurse explained the association between coronary artery calcification and the increased risk of future adverse cardiovascular events. The nurse also described the relationship between cardiovascular risk factors and the development of coronary artery calcification. Ten minutes were then devoted to giving advice about statins, aspirin, blood pressure, healthy diet, physical activity and smoking cessation based on ESC prevention guidelines.2,3

After excluding patients who discontinued statin therapy due to side effects (20 in the control group, 22 in the intervention group) the researchers found a significantly greater reduction in plasma total cholesterol concentrations in the intervention group compared to controls (1.71 mmol/L vs. 1.44 mmol/L, p = 0.027).

More patients in the control group continued smoking (22% vs. 9%, p = 0.014) and eating an unhealthy diet (64% vs. 44%, p = 0.005). The intervention group lost 1.5 kg on average while the control group gained an average of 0.5 kg (p = 0.001).There was a tendency towards a higher degree of adherence to statin therapy in the intervention group (p = 0.056).

Ms Mols said: “Seeing their calcified coronary arteries on the CT image was clearly an eye-opener for patients. We received comments such as, ‘It is my coronary artery and my coronary artery calcification and

I am facing a real risk and challenge’. This may be the wake-up call patients need to take their medication and modify their behaviours to reduce their risk of having a coronary artery event.”

She added: “We found that patients who looked at images of their calcified coronary arteries were more likely to stop smoking, lose weight, eat a healthy diet, take recommended statins and reduce their plasma cholesterol levels. The results of our study suggest that visualising their health threat motivates patients to make changes to reduce their risk. A large scale study is needed to confirm the findings and to determine the cost-effectiveness of implementing this intervention in clinical practice.”

Notes and references

1 Coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA) provides a non-invasive high-resolution image of the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Coronary artery disease is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. The CTA images show whether plaque has been deposited and is narrowing the arteries. Plaques can reduce or block blood flow to the heart and cause a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

2 European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice (version 2012). European Heart Journal. 2012;33:1635–1701. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehs092

3 Recommendations on medication and lifestyle included:

  • Statin and aspirin prophylaxis: Information about the recommended cholesterol target levels and the life-long use of statins and aspirin including dosage, timing, benefits, and possible side effects
  • Blood pressure: Information about recommended blood pressure
  • Healthy diet: Information about beneficial diet choices. Energy intake should be adjusted to avoid overweight. Patients were encouraged to have a minimum intake of 2-3 servings of fruit per day (200 g), 2-3 servings of vegetables per day (200 g), fish at least twice a week, lean meat, and low fat dairy products. Patients were recommended to reduce total fat to < 30% of energy consumption and a maximum of 1/3 as saturated fat
  • Physical activity: A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity at least 3 days a week was recommended. Moderate intensity physical activities were described as exercise, brisk walking, bicycling, or heavy gardening
  • Smoking cessation: Smokers were advised to quit smoking and to consult their primary physician to plan a smoking cessation strategy.

Notes to editors

About EuroHeartCare

Euro Heart Care is the annual congress of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions (CCNAP) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). This year’s meeting is held in collaboration with the Croatian Association of Cardiology Nurses. See here

About the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions (CCNAP)

The CCNAP aims to promote excellence in Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions through practice education and research. In addition to nurses, allied health professionals belonging to the CCNAP include physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists, cath lab technicians, imaging and diagnostic technicians and therapists working in rehabilitation and prevention. The CCNAP is one of five Councils of the European Society of Cardiology. See here

About the European Society of Cardiology

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) represents more than 80 000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe. See here

Information for journalists attending EuroHeartCare 2015

EuroHeartCare 2015 will be held 14-15 June in Dubrovnik, Croatia, at the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel. The full scientific programme is available here:

  • To register on-site please bring a valid press card or appropriate letter of assignment with proof of three recent published articles (cardiology or health-related, or referring to a previous ESC Event).
  • Press registration is not available to Industry or its Public Relations representatives, event management, marketing or communications representatives.