Heart disease screenings: When to do them and why you need one

Many of us don’t go to the doctor until something is wrong. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind. Unfortunately, that thought doesn’t cut it when it does comes to your heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but about 80% of cardiac events are preventable through early detection and prevention plans.

Heart disease screenings give you a snapshot of your health. Knowing your numbers for key factors can help you monitor your well-being and adjust your lifestyle. Let’s talk about heart disease, why you need to be screened and when you should.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a general term used to describe several conditions that affect the heart, including but not limited to arrhythmias, valvular heart disease and congenital heart defects. The most common heart disease is coronary disease, which weakens the blood vessels, prevents blood flow to the heart and can increase the risk of a heart attack heart attack.

Heart disease is often undiagnosed until symptoms of a heart attack or heart failure appear. Regular heart disease screenings are essential to help you stay ahead of many health hazards.

What causes heart disease?

Heart disease can occur at any age. In the case of congenital heart disease, it can happen at birth. Other times, it develops throughout life, such as coronary artery disease, and progresses slowly as plaque builds up. The cause of heart disease will vary depending on the type of condition. Let’s focus on coronary heart disease since it is the most common type people experience.

The causes of coronary heart disease are genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Essentially, your heart has to work harder because things get in the way, putting more strain on the organ than necessary. Your heart can only function for so long under excessive stress.

The CDC says nearly half of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. That’s why you should get impressions regularly. Now let’s take a closer look at when you should.

Hint: it is before symptoms such as shortness of breath, pressure in the chest or weakness appear.

Su Arslanoglu/Getty Images

When should you be screened for heart disease?

The American Heart Association recommends that routine screenings should start at age 20. That sounds early, but heart disease can also affect younger people. By starting regular checkups at 8 p.m., your doctor can establish a baseline for your body and monitor changes as you age. At this stage, even if you are not considered high risk (see below), it is important to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and lifestyle factors through family history, physical examinations and blood tests. Routine examinations for people at lower risk should be as follows:

  • Blood pressure: If your blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, testing should be done at least every two years, or more often if your blood pressure is higher.
  • Cholesterol: Patients with normal cholesterol levels should have a fasting lipoprotein profile through a blood test at least every four to six years.
  • Blood sugar: This should be done at least every three years from the age of 45 onwards.
  • Lifestyle factors: At each doctor’s visit, factors such as physical activity, diet and smoking will be discussed.

High-risk factors require more frequent monitoring

Regular screenings for all patients should begin at age 20 and continue at intervals. However, if you are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, you will likely be screened more often. Risk factors include high blood pressure, cholesterol or glucose results, a family history of heart disease, to be overweight and certain lifestyle factors, including diet, smoking and activity level.

In general, if you have two or more risk factors, further cardiovascular testing becomes necessary, especially if you experience symptoms associated with heart disease, such as an irregular heartbeat.

Additional tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram: To measure the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity, you may need an EKG. It is a painless, non-invasive method of monitoring heart function. All it takes is some sticky electrodes on your chest. Risk factors that warrant an EKG are chest pain, palpitations or irregular heartbeats. Your doctor may require you to wear a portable EKG called a Holter monitor for a few days to get a more complete picture.
  • Echocardiogram: There are times when your doctor may want to look at the structure of your heart. An echocardiogram involves an ultrasound machine to assess how your heart is pumping.
  • Stress tests: Cardiac stress tests are basically EKG with exercise. Your doctor attaches the electrodes to your chest and you will either walk, run or pedal while the doctor monitors your heart’s response. Nuclear stress tests include radioactive dyes and imaging machines while you rest and exercise.
  • Cardiac computed tomography for calcium assessment: To find out how much plaque has built up in your arteries, your doctor may use a CT scan.
  • Coronary artery angiogram: Either with a CT scan or catheter threaded through your groin or arm, an angiogram measures blood flow and the size of your arteries.

Practical tips for preventing heart disease

Heart disease is serious, but it is also largely preventable and treatable, especially with regular screenings. You have more control over your heart health than you think. Try adding these daily habits to your life reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Stop smoking: Smoking is one of the main causes of heart disease. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
  • Pick up speed: Exercise is the oldest advice in the books for a reason. You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate weekly exercise to maintain heart health. It’s only 30 minutes a day for five days.
  • Monitor your health at home: It’s at home pulse, blood pressure and glucose metersin addition to fitness trackers which can help you track your health between doctor visits.
  • Fine-tune your diet: To eat food which nourish your body is essential for heart health. As often as you can, avoid foods high in saturated fat and trans fat. Look for opportunities in your diet to make healthy swaps. Always choose nutritious meals that include vegetables and whole grains.
  • Elderly couple jogging in the park.

    FG Trade/Getty Images

Extend; Not Read?

Don’t just take a “good enough” approach to your health. The heart is one of the body’s most vital organs, and sometimes it is difficult to know when it is sick. That’s why heart health screenings start so early. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are some of the most common conditions, and unfortunately they significantly increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Regular screenings and checkups are among the best tools for determining your health and helping you make changes that can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. You don’t have to wait to check yourself out. If you have a history of heart problems, try using home health monitors between doctor visits.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *