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At the Heart of Prevention: Cardiovascular Screenings
By Kevin Ting, MD
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for men and women in the United States, with one person dying every 34 seconds from a cardiovascular condition.
The most common types of heart disease are:
- Arrhythmia – Characterized by abnormal heart rhythm (too fast, too slow, or irregular), arrythmia happens when the electrical signals that coordinate heartbeats don’t work properly. There are many types of arrythmia, but atrial fibrillation, which causes the heart to beat more than 400 beats per minute, is the most common.
- Cardiomyopathy – A disease of the myocardium, cardiomyopathy causes the heart muscle to stretch, thicken, or stiffen, resulting in a weakened heart that struggles to pump blood properly. It’s thought to be caused by reactions to certain drugs or toxins, a viral infection, or genetics.
- Congestive heart failure – Approximately 6.2 million Americans suffer from this serious condition, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to support the body’s other organs. Despite the name, it doesn’t mean the heart has stopped beating.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) – Sometimes referred to as coronary heart disease, CAD develops when the major blood vessels that supply the heart are damaged or diseased, typically due to cholesterol-containing plaque in the arteries.
Often, these conditions go unnoticed until they produce a heart attack or other serious cardiovascular event, which is why prevention and early detection are vitally important.
You can help prevent heart disease by eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, reducing body fat, not smoking or vaping, and limiting stress. If you have risk factors such as a family history of heart disease, your doctor may also suggest preventive heart screenings beyond the usual body weight, BMI, and blood pressure measurements.
My colleagues and I may recommend the following tests and screenings to gain insight into your current cardiovascular health and to help predict future cardiac events.
- Blood glucose testing measures your blood sugar and A1c levels to help determine if you have or are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which, if left untreated, can lead to heart disease.
- Coronary CT calcium scoring uses computed tomography (CT) to produce images of your coronary arteries to see if they’re blocked or narrowed by calcium (plaque) buildup. The test generates a coronary artery calcium score that shows how much calcium there is, where it’s located, and the number and size of calcium lesions.
- CT coronary angiogram also uses computed tomography (CT) to visualize your coronary arteries and check for narrowing or blockage without performing an invasive cardiac catheterization.
- Echocardiogram uses ultrasound technology to check the structure and function of your heart and diagnose certain conditions, including cardiomyopathy. A hand-held wand takes pictures of your heart valves and chambers so your physician can evaluate how your heart is pumping.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) monitors your heart’s electrical activity through the placement of electrodes placed on your chest and limbs. It can provide insight into whether you’ve had a heart attack or if you have heart failure or heart damage. It can also show if you have an irregular heart rhythm.
- Fasting lipoprotein profile is a blood test used to measure total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and HDL (good) cholesterol. The measurement is helpful in determining some of your risk factors for future cardiovascular events.
- Holter monitoring uses a wearable, battery-operated device to perform an electrocardiogram over a longer period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours. It’s typically used when a shorter, in-office EKG doesn’t provide the information your physician needs to accurately monitor your heart’s electrical activity.
- Nuclear cardiac stress testing helps diagnose heart conditions such as coronary artery disease both while you’re at rest and shortly after you’ve exercised. Your physician injects a radioactive substance into the bloodstream to make images more visible while a special camera takes pictures of the blood flow in and around your heart.
By reducing risk factors and knowing signs and symptoms, you can help prevent many types of heart disease. My colleagues and I can give you the tools and insight you need to protect and improve the health of your most vital organ.