February is American Heart Month: what screenings are available for cardiovascular disease?

Health & Wellness

Screening for cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes checking for risk factors including high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose. Screenings such as an EKG, stress test, coronary calcium score CT scan or cardiac catheterization may also be used depending on risks and symptoms.

Those Nerdy Girls want to help people identify symptoms and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). A great start is a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, eating a diet low in saturated fats and highly processed foods and trying to manage stress. You can also screen for CVD risk to make sure your heart is healthy.

Simple screening for cardiovascular disease is offered by healthcare providers during an office visit through a physical exam and blood testing. Your provider will check for:

❤️ Hypertension, or elevation in blood pressure: Elevated blood pressure significantly increases the lifetime risk of CVD. Elevated blood pressure often causes no symptoms, so seeing your health care provider yearly to check for it is important. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.

❤️ Blood testing for cholesterol: Elevated cholesterol levels, particularly Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels of greater than 130 are linked to increased risk of CVD.

❤️ Blood testing for glucose: Diabetes is diagnosed by a random blood glucose measurement greater than 200 or a fasting blood glucose greater than 126. Health care providers also can use a blood test called a hemoglobin A1C which looks at a 3 month average measure of blood glucose. This test doesn’t require you to fast before the blood sample is collected. A hemoglobin A1C of higher than 6.5 is consistent with diabetes.

⏱️ How often blood testing is recommended is based on your individual health profile. The American Heart Association suggests healthy individuals age 20 and older get a blood test every 4-6 years. If you have increased risk factors, your healthcare provider might recommend more frequent testing.

❤️ An electrocardiogram (EKG) is another simple office procedure used to assess risk. Electrode stickers are placed on the chest, arms and legs to measure the electrical conduction traveling through the heart. A tracing is produced that gives information about many heart conditions. An EKG can detect arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) or damage to the heart muscle resulting from a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

❤️ Stress testing evaluates the heart and its coronary arteries while undergoing strenuous exercise. The exercise involves walking/running on a treadmill – or for those who cannot easily walk, can be simulated by injecting a medication that causes the heart to beat harder. The test measures the heart’s response to the exercise with an EKG or an ultrasound image of the heart muscle called an echocardiogram. If during intense exercise the EKG or echocardiogram shows areas of the heart muscle are not receiving good blood flow, there is a concern for coronary artery disease and increased risk for myocardial infarction.

❤️ Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring is a newer test available to assess cardiovascular risk. It may be recommended for people ages 40 to 75 with risk factors such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, use of cigarettes or a family history of heart disease. The test involves a specialized CT scan of the heart that detects calcium in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. Higher amounts of calcium indicate more plaque causing narrowing in the arteries and increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

❤️ Cardiac catheterization is the most invasive test for CVD. This is used when someone has concerning symptoms or has a high risk of cardiovascular disease. During a surgical procedure a catheter is passed through an artery in the wrist or thigh and threaded up to the coronary arteries of the heart. Special x-ray dye is then injected to evaluate these arteries for blockages. If a blockage is found, the physician performing the catheterization can place a stent or small tube to open up the blockage, allowing for improved blood flow to the heart muscle.

There is no one-size-fits-all plan for testing for every person. A discussion with your health care provider about your own risk will determine what testing makes sense for you. This month, we are drawing attention to cardiovascular disease -so be heart smart and schedule your checkup with your health-care provider!

Stay Safe. Stay heart healthy!


Those Nerdy Girls