A test that measures calcium deposits on walls of blood vessels may be a better way to screen people who are at risk for developing heart attack or stroke, a new study says. 

To measure heart disease risk, the coronary artery calcium (CAC) test uses CT scans to measure the levels of calcium deposited on the walls of the arteries around the heart.

The study included more than 6,000 participants from various communities across the United States. Researchers compared the efficiency of six top assessment tests in predicting the risk of heart attack in the participants. The tests included in the study were CAC score, ankle-brachial index, brachial flow mediated dilation, carotid intima-media thickness, high sensitivity C-reactive protein and family history of heart disease.

Researchers found that CAC score was the best in terms of predicting health complications in the participants.

“We know how to treat patients at low and high risk for heart disease, but for the estimated 23 million Americans who are at intermediate risk, we still are not certain about the best way to proceed,” said lead author Joseph Yeboah, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology at Wake Forest Baptist in a press release.

Previous studies have shown that CAC scores can be used to predict the health complications of people who have diabetes, those who smoke and even the elderly.

Currently Framingham Risk Score (FRS) is used to classify people based on the risk that they have for developing heart disease as high, intermediate or low risk. The test, doctors believe, does not predict disease risk in intermediate group as some people in this group require aggressive treatment and some can reduce disease risk by changing their lifestyles.

“If we want to concentrate our attention on the subset of intermediate-risk patients who are at the highest risk for cardiovascular disease, CAC is clearly the best tool we have in our arsenal to identify them. However, we have to look at other factors such as costs and risks associated with radiation exposure from a CT scan before deciding if everyone in the intermediate group should be screened,” Yeboah said.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.