Health Screening For Heart Disease

Heart disease—also known as “cardiovascular disease” or “coronary artery disease”—is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than 500,000 deaths each year, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (2009). The Mayo Clinic (2009) reports that heart disease kills more Americans each year than all forms of cancer combined.

The term “heart disease” generally describes a condition involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels due to the buildup of plaque along the walls of the blood vessels. Plaque reduces blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots. Over time these blockages can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attacks and stroke.

Why Is Screening for Heart Disease Risk Important?

Like many diseases, heart disease is easiest to treat in its earliest stages. While heart disease may cause some symptoms—such as chest pain and numbness in the limbs—many people don’t experience or recognize symptoms of heart disease until they have a heart attack or stroke. This is why doctors recommend monitoring your heart disease risk factors through regular health screening.

Is Heart Disease Medical Screening Right for Me?

The suggested form and frequency of health screening for heart disease risk factors varies, but some forms of medical screening are recommended for everyone.

Recommendations for common health screening tests include:

  • Blood pressure: To ensure healthy blood pressure levels, you should have a reading at every healthcare visit.
  • Blood sugar levels: Since diabetes is a heart disease risk factor, the American Diabetes Association recommends a glucose medical screening at least every three years after age 45.
  • Cholesterol: A baseline health screening of cholesterol levels should be taken at least every five years after age 20, according to the National Cholesterol Education Project.

In the United States, Medicare covers a “full lipid screening” every five years, which measures your cholesterol and other blood fat levels.

How Does Heart Disease Health Screening Work?

Depending on your heart disease risk factors—such as your age and family history—your doctor may recommend the following medical screening tests:

  • Blood tests, whichscreen for cholesterol, glucose levels and C-reactive protein
  • Echocardiograms, which use sound waves create a picture of the heart
  • Electrocardiograms, which record the heart’s electrical activity
  • Stress tests, which reveal the heart’s function during exercise.

After Health Screening for Heart Disease Risk

You can take steps both individually and in partnership with your healthcare providers to reduce your heart disease risk. Armed with the results of a medical screening, you can work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive, personalized program to address your heart disease risk factors. This plan may include:

  • Blood pressure-lowering medication
  • Cholesterol-lowering medication
  • Lifestyle changes including quitting smoking, following a low-fat, low-sodium diet, exercising more and limiting alcohol use.

Resources

Life Line Screening. (n.d.). Heart disease screening. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/heart-disease.aspx

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Heart disease. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120

Medicare.gov. (n.d.). Cardiovascular screening. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.medicare.gov/navigation/manage-your-health/preventive-services/cardiovascular-screening.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (2009). What is coronary artery disease? Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Cad/CAD_WhatIs.html