Computed tomography (CT) imaging can identify and evaluate arterial plaque in patients with diabetes, according to a new study in Radiology. This represents a potentially significant advance for a population with an increased risk of myocardial infarction and other cardiovascular events. 

Calcified, or stable, plaque is less likely to rupture (and potentially cause a fatal heart attack) than noncalcified, or soft, plaque. One possible screening technique to distinguish between the two types is quantitative plaque analysis with coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA).

In the multicenter study, João A.C. Lima, MD, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and fellow investigators assessed the relationship between coronary plaque detected by CCTA and cardiovascular risk factors in 224 asymptomatic people with diabetes. T

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hey measured coronary artery wall volume and length to determine a coronary plaque volume index (PVI) for each patient. PVI was related to age, gender, body mass index (BMI), and duration of diabetes. 

Younger people with a shorter history of diabetes had a greater percentage of soft plaque. Only about one-third of the coronary plaque detected showed calcification.

“These findings represent a very important step in the ability to quantify plaque, particularly noncalcified plaque,” affirmed Lima in a statement describing the study. “People with soft plaque respond better to interventions, particularly medical therapy like statins.”