Information Screening Heart Disease

“Heart disease” refers to a group of illnesses that affect the heart and cardiovascular system. Heart disease can lead to serious complications, such as heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis and angina. According to the American Heart Association (2006), more than 17,000 Americans suffer from heart disease each year.

Symptoms of heart disease include chest pain, shortness of breath and pain or numbness in the legs and arms. Unfortunately, many people don’t experience symptoms until they suffer a heart attack or another serious cardiovascular problem. In fact, 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease have had no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association (2006). Medical screening can help identify heart disease in its early stages, before it becomes life-threatening. Without medical screening, you and your doctor may not even realize that you have heart disease until it’s too late.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease exists in many forms. The most common type is coronary artery disease, marked by the narrowing or blocking of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This is a major cause of chest pain, heart attacks and strokes. Heart disease is widely recognized as the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

Who is at Risk for Heart Disease?

Although heart disease affects millions of Americans, some people run a higher risk of developing it than others. You may be at risk if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Elevated C-reactive protein (a substance released into the blood after an infection or injury)
  • High cholesterol
  • High glucose levels (a common symptom of type 2 diabetes)
  • Peripheral arterial disease, or the hardening of the arteries.

Men have a slightly higher risk for heart disease than women, although millions of women have heart disease, too. Age, stress, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy habits — such as smoking — also play a role. If you have high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease, consider getting a health screening test for heart disease.

How Does Heart Disease Risk Screening Work?

Medical screening for heart disease tests for the four major risk factors of heart disease, which are listed above. Each test is quick, relatively painless and relatively non-invasive. C-reactive protein, cholesterol and glucose levels can all be tested with a simple finger-stick blood test. Peripheral arterial disease is screened using blood-pressure cuffs on the ankles and upper arms and measuring the blood-pressure ratio between the two.

If any of these medical screenings indicate that you’re at high risk for heart disease, talk with your doctor about treatment options and how to prevent a heart attack.

Preventing Heart Disease

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can prevent heart disease in many cases. Manage your weight by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. If you smoke, consider quitting. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, ask your doctor how you can manage these conditions. Reducing and managing stress in all areas of your life can be another major step toward preventing heart disease.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Cardiovascular disease statistics. Retrieved August 27, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4478.

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). Heart disease screening. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/heart-disease.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Heart disease. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120.

Medline Plus. (2010). Heart diseases. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseases.html.