According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one person dying every 36 seconds from the condition. Fortunately, understanding your risk for the disease, as well as taking steps to detect it, can help you get treatment to better manage it.
Heart disease begins as early as the teenage years. By the time a person is diagnosed with heart disease in their 40s or 50s, plaque has been forming and maturing for decades.
Because of this, we recommend people see a primary care provider on an annual basis starting in their early 20s. This helps us identify your risk for heart disease at an earlier age. By looking at factors such as family history, weight, diet, blood pressure and cholesterol, we can begin to determine your individual risk for developing heart disease.
Patients who are low risk generally don’t benefit from heart screenings. Conversely, patients at a high risk don’t need screening tests because we already treat them like they have heart disease. It’s intermediate-risk patients who can benefit the most from screenings. These are patients who aren’t symptomatic – in general they feel good – but they may have a few risk factors, such as high blood pressure or being overweight.
At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we commonly use these three methods to detect heart disease:
• Heart scan – A heart scan is a CT scan that is generally recommended for men ages 40-60 and women ages 50-70, and is our go-to test for intermediate-risk patients. It takes seconds to do and looks for calcium in your heart arteries. If calcium is found, it’s a marker for the presence of plaque. The higher your score, the more likely it is you’ll develop heart disease. If calcium is detected in your arteries, your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes including eating a healthier diet, exercising and quitting smoking. Depending on your result, medication may also be an option.
• Cardiac stress test – Contrary to popular belief, a stress test is rarely used for screening purposes and almost never used on patients who are asymptomatic. It’s most often used on patients with symptoms to determine if they have significant heart disease. During the test, the patient walks on a treadmill while his or her heart activity is recorded using an electrocardiogram. This can provide information about your exercise tolerance, how your heart responds to an increased workload, the size of your heart’s chambers and its pumping action.
• Peripheral vascular ultrasound – We use this test to check for plaque in the carotid arteries, aorta and areas outside your heart. Detecting plaque in these areas may indicate an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.
You can help monitor your heart health at home through exercise. Getting regular exercise can provide a good gauge for how well your heart functions. For example, if you’re used to walking 30 minutes, every day, but suddenly you can only do 20 minutes, it can be an early warning sign something isn’t right and you should make an appointment with your doctor to get evaluated.
At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we take a team approach to diagnose and treat heart disease. We collaborate with patients to help them evaluate their risk factors and determine the right approach to manage and treat heart disease. To learn more or to make an appointment, visit us online or call 630-527-6363.