Atheroma calcification is a common feature of advanced atherosclerosis, however with the advent of CT scanning it has become possible to detect extensive coronary calcification in the absence of flow-limiting lesions. While this phenomenon is known in renal disease, it also exists in some patients with exertional angina. Vascular pathology suggests biomineralisation associated with development of osteoblast-like cells in the arterial wall. While some conventional risk factors are shared with atheroma formation, others such as ethnicity and medications appear more specific to extensive calcification and may mirror those for osteoporosis. Similarly an atherogenic diet can predispose to both conditions while some elements promote or inhibit coronary calcification but not atheroma formation. The immune and endocrine systems contribute to both conditions but not necessarily in the same way, with vitamins D and K more related to calcification than atheroma formation. Finally, statins significantly lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduce atheroma formation but are largely powerless against extensive calcification. Although investigations into the exact cause of extensive coronary calcification are in their infancy, early results suggest that it is sufficiently different in nature from atheroma formation to be considered as a separate condition. Further research would yield a greater understanding, which would aid management and the development of specific biomarkers to reduce the cost and radiation risk of CT scanning.
Atheroma, atherosclerosis, coronary calcification, biomineralisation