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      The challenge of asymptomatic coronary artery disease in aircrew; detecting plaque before the accident

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          Coronary events remain a major cause of sudden incapacitation, including death, in both the general population and among aviation personnel, and are an ongoing threat to flight safety and operations. The presentation is often unheralded, especially in younger adults, and is often due to rupture of a previously non-obstructive coronary atheromatous plaque. The challenge for aeromedical practitioners is to identify individuals at increased risk for such events. This paper presents the NATO Cardiology Working Group (HFM 251) consensus approach for screening and investigation of aircrew for asymptomatic coronary disease.

          A three-phased approach to coronary artery disease (CAD) risk assessment is recommended, beginning with initial risk-stratification using a population-appropriate risk calculator and resting ECG. For aircrew identified as being at increased risk, enhanced screening is recommended by means of Coronary Artery Calcium Score alone or combined with a CT coronary angiography investigation. Additional screening may include exercise testing, and vascular ultrasound imaging. Aircrew identified as being at high risk based on enhanced screening require secondary investigations, which may include functional ischaemia, and potentially invasive coronary angiography. Functional stress testing as a stand-alone investigation for significant CAD is not recommended in aircrew. Aircrew identified with coronary disease require further clinical and aeromedical evaluation before being reconsidered for flying status.

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          Most cited references 37

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          Coronary artery calcium area by electron-beam computed tomography and coronary atherosclerotic plaque area. A histopathologic correlative study.

          Coronary calcium identified by electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) correlates poorly with luminal atherosclerotic narrowing, but calcium, an intimate part of coronary plaque, may be more directly related to atheromatous plaque area. Thirty-eight coronary arteries from 13 autopsy hearts were dissected, straightened, and scanned with EBCT in 3-mm contiguous increments. Coronary calcium area was defined as one or more pixels with a density > 130 Hounsfield units (0.18 mm2/pixel). Each artery was divided into corresponding 3-mm segments, representative histological sections were stained, and atherosclerotic plaque area per segment (mm2) was quantified. Coronary artery calcium and coronary artery plaque areas were correlated for the hearts as a whole, for individual coronary arteries, and for individual coronary artery segments. The sums of histological plaque areas versus the sums of calcium areas were highly correlated for each heart and for each coronary artery. However, coronary plaque area was on the order of five times greater than calcium area. Furthermore, minimal diffuse segmental coronary plaque could be present despite the absence of coronary calcium detectable by EBCT. This histopathologic study confirms an intimate relation between whole heart, coronary artery, and segmental coronary atherosclerotic plaque area and EBCT coronary calcium area but suggests that there is a threshold value for plaque area below which coronary calcium is either absent or not detectable by this methodology.
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            Coronary calcification, coronary disease risk factors, C-reactive protein, and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease events: the St. Francis Heart Study.

            The purpose of this study was to determine the prognostic accuracy of electron beam computed tomographic (CT) scanning of the coronary arteries and the relationship of coronary calcification to standard coronary disease risk factors and C-reactive protein (CRP) in the prediction of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) events in apparently healthy middle-age persons. As a screening test for coronary artery disease (CAD), electron beam CT scanning remains controversial. In a prospective, population-based study, 4,903 asymptomatic persons age 50 to 70 years underwent electron beam CT scanning of the coronary arteries. At 4.3 years, follow-up was available in 4,613 participants (94%), and 119 had sustained at least one ASCVD event. Subjects with ASCVD events had higher baseline coronary calcium scores (median [interquartile range], Agatston method) than those without events: 384 (127, 800) versus 10 (0, 86) (p or = 100 versus < 100, relative risk (95% confidence interval) was 9.6 (6.7 to 13.9) for all ASCVD events, 11.1 (7.3 to 16.7) for all CAD events, and 9.2 (4.9 to 17.3) for non-fatal myocardial infarction and death. The coronary calcium score predicted CAD events independently of standard risk factors and CRP (p = 0.004), was superior to the Framingham risk index in the prediction of events (area under the receiver-operating characteristic curve of 0.79 +/- 0.03 vs. 0.69 +/- 0.03, p = 0.0006), and enhanced stratification of those falling into the Framingham categories of low, intermediate, and high risk (p < 0.0001). The electron beam CT coronary calcium score predicts CAD events independent of standard risk factors, more accurately than standard risk factors and CRP, and refines Framingham risk stratification.
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              Electron beam computed tomographic coronary calcium scanning: a review and guidelines for use in asymptomatic persons.

              Coronary artery disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world. Effective means of treatment such as drug therapy to lower cholesterol levels are available, but clinical application to patients at highest risk remains imprecise. Electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) has been suggested as a means to diagnose subclinical coronary disease and facilitate risk stratification, but no current interpretive consensus exists in clinical practice. We critically reviewed current, pertinent literature regarding EBCT coronary calcium scanning from a clinical perspective and, in particular, studies that evaluated it as a measure of atherosclerotic coronary disease. Additionally, we reviewed studies that quantified the EBCT "calcium score" in relationship to coronary heart disease events. The available data suggest that the EBCT calcium score can help identify persons at higher than anticipated risk of future coronary events: the greater the EBCT coronary calcium score, the greater the extent of atherosclerotic plaque disease. Based on the literature review, we offer EBCT interpretation guidelines as they relate to drug therapy and risk reduction in asymptomatic persons with borderline cholesterol levels. Considerable evidence shows that coronary calcium is specific for atherosclerotic plaque and that it can be sensitively detected and accurately quantified by using EBCT. The coronary calcium score can help guide initiation of clinical prevention programs as part of a risk stratification and management scheme aimed at improving outcomes in patients determined to be at highest risk of coronary disease for their respective age and gender.

                Author and article information

                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                January 2019
                13 November 2018
                : 105
                : Suppl 1
                : s17-s24
                [1 ] Canadian Forces Environmental Medical Establishment , Toronto, Ontario, Canada
                [2 ] Aeromedical Consult Service, United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine , Wright-PAtterson AFB, Ohio, USA
                [3 ] Aeromedical Centre, Swiss Air Force , Duebendorf, Switzerland
                [4 ] Department of Cardiology, University Medical Center Utrecht and Central Military Hospital , Utrecht, The Netherlands
                [5 ] Royal Air Force Aviation Clinical Medicine Service, RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine, RAF Henlow , Bedfordshire, UK
                [6 ] German Air Force Center for Aerospace Medicine , Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany
                [7 ] departmentAviation Medicine Department , AeMC, Percy Military Hospital , Clamart, France
                [8 ] departmentDepartment of cardiothoracic surgery , Luzerner Kantonsspital , Luzern, Switzerland
                Author notes
                [Correspondence to ] Dr Edward D Nicol, Department of Cardiology, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, OX3 9DU, UK; e.nicol@ , e.nicol@
                © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of National Defence, 2018.

                This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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