Heart Yourself: The Importance of Heart Screenings

Take Care of Your Ticker

February is here, and along with all the love comes the piece of ourselves we often associate with it: your heart. This heart month, we want you to show yourself a little love and put your heart first.

But how do you know if you have a healthy heart, and if you aren’t feeling symptoms, do you really need to be screened? The first step in knowing what screenings you need is, as always, to talk to your healthcare provider. 

One of the first things they’ll probably look at are your risk factors.

Your heart puts in a lot of work—beating 115,000 times and pumping 2,000 gallons of blood a day—but there are things that can stress it out. Unfortunately, not all of those things are under your control. Here are a few risk factors most healthcare providers keep in mind when sizing up your cardiovascular health: family history, physical activity, smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose.

Standard Heart Health Tests

Even if you don’t have a family history of heart disease, there are a few screenings that most providers consider an important part of every healthy adult’s medical care.

Blood Pressure

Here’s the thing: A lot of the time, high blood pressure doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms, which is why regular screenings are so important. Your provider will let you know how often your blood pressure should be checked, but a good rule of thumb is every two years below the age of 40 and annually over the age of 40.

Cholesterol

We all know too much cholesterol is no good for anyone’s heart, but is it really something you, personally, need to be concerned about? It helps to understand the two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol that can result in artery-clogging plaque; HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from your blood. While probably not a daily concern, it’s a good idea to get your first baseline cholesterol test in your 20s and then at least every five years after that. Of course, if you have a family history of high LDL cholesterol, your provider may suggest more regular screenings. 

Cardiac Calcium Scoring

This common heart screening uses a noninvasive CT scan to determine your risk for coronary artery disease by measuring the buildup of plaque in your arteries. The lower your resulting calcium score, the less likely you are to have a cardiac event. With scores greater than zero, your doctor may make lifestyle recommendation changes to improve your heart health

Heart Screenings for those at Higher Risk

What if you do have a family history or your doctor comes back from a more standard screening with the news that you may be at risk? A full cardiac health screening could include a number of different tests. We’ve pulled together a few that you might encounter.

The Exercise Stress Test

Your provider wants to know how well your heart performs under stress, so it may be time to hop on the treadmill or exercise bike. Typically, you’ll start exercising at a brisk pace with an increasing incline to get your heart pumping. This is a good way to evaluate heart rate, blood pressure, and changes in electrical activity in your heart.

EKG

With an exercise stress test, an EKG or electrocardiogram will often measure the electric activity of your heart as you go and can also be ordered as a separate test. This is one of the most commonly ordered heart tests, designed to trace your heart activity and providing information on your heart rhythm.

Echocardiogram

Often used in conjunction with an EKG, an echocardiogram can be placed on your chest (don’t worry, it’s non-invasive) to measure your heart. The device sends out ultrasound waves to create a moving image of your beating heart. This is a great way to uncover valve problems or post heart-attack damage.

Nuclear stress test

Some providers may call for a nuclear perfusion test to be performed both at rest and after exercise, where they inject a substance that allows them to take images showing any abnormal blood flow from things like blocked or narrow arteries or scarring from prior heart attacks.

CT & MRI

A CT exam is a great, non-invasive way to show plaque in the heart (and how much there is) as well as any narrowing of the arteries. An MRI goes a little further, revealing muscle dysfunction, tumors, and rare disorders.

Put Your Heart First

If you’re not sure what heart screenings you may need, that’s okay—that’s what your doctor is for! Talk with your provider about your heart care,  and once you know what tests or procedures they recommend, you can use MDsave to compare upfront, inclusive prices.

Sources:

Healthline https://www.healthline.com/health/fun-facts-about-the-heart#1 

American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/heart-health-screenings 

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353124 

Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tests-your-doctor-may-order-to-determine-whether-you-have-heart-disease 

Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315900.php



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