Aortic Calcification from DXA Scans Can Help Predict Fall Risk in Older Women

An analysis of data from more than 1000 women in Australia suggests each incremental increase in abdominal aortic calcification was linked to a 3% increase in risk of fall-related hospitalizations.

New research from a study of patients in Australia suggests older women with evidence of aortic calcification could be at an increased risk of falls and potential for fractures.

A look at fall-related hospitalizations over a 14.5-year period, results indicate each unit increase in abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) was associated with a 3% increase in relative risk for fall-related hospitalization.

"We know that AAC identifies women at a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, but our research now shows that it also identifies women at a higher falls risk, independent of other falls risk factors and muscle strength," Joshua Lewis, PhD, a National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow at Edith Cowan University, in a statement.

Funded by the Rebecca L. Cooper Medical Research Foundation, the current study was conducted Lewis and colleagues from Edith Cowan University with an interest in identifying whether an association existed between AAC and increased risk of long-term fall-related hospitalizations in aging women. To do so, investigators designed their study as an analysis of data from within the Perth Longitudinal Study of Aging in Women (PLSAW).

A 15-year longitudinal study that began in 1998-1999, PLSAW examined the impact of various environmental, anatomical, physiological, metabolic, and genetic factors on health outcomes in aging women and provided investigators with information related to a cohort of 1053 older women with a mean age of 75.0±2.6 years meeting criterion for inclusion in their study. All women included in the study had AAC assessed from lateral spine images obtained from dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and were scored using the AAC 24 semiquantitative method. Of note, presence of any AAC was defined as an AAC 24 of 1 or more.

Upon analysis, investigators identified 413 (39.2%) women who experienced a fall-related hospitalization during the follow-up period. In adjusted models, results suggested each 1 unit increase in baseline AAC24 was associated with a 3% increase in relative risk for a fall-related hospitalization (HJR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.01-1.07).

When compared to women with no AAC, results indicated those with any AAC were at a 40% greater risk for fall-related hospitalizations in minimally adjusted models. In fully adjusted models comparing the same groups, women with any AAC were at a 39% increased risk for fall-related hospitalizations. Additionally, investigators pointed out these relationships were not attenuated by inclusion of measurements of muscle function.

"If we can capture an additional scan to look for evidence of AAC at the same time, we can potentially identify and prevent future harmful falls,” said Abadi Gebre, a co-investigator and PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University. "We often wait until a person suffers a fall to intervene and at that point the damage is already done."

This study, “Abdominal aortic calcification is associated with a higher risk of injurious fall-related hospitalizations in older Australian women,” was published in Atherosclerosis.