How to Screen for Heart Disease
Do you have a family history of heart disease, or have you been told you are at risk of developing it in the future? If this is the case, it is critical to understand which screening tests can assist you in identifying risk factors. Some heart disease risk factors, such as diet quality, physical activity level, body mass index (BMI), weight circumference, blood pressure, and cholesterol level, can be reduced by changing your lifestyle. Even if you have previously been classified as high-risk, you can manage your risk and reduce your chances of developing heart disease in the future. The failure to appropriately screen could equate to medical malpractice, and if you are wrongfully injured, you should consult with a medical malpractice lawyer.
Your healthcare provider will take basic health measurements during a physical exam, such as your weight, waist circumference, and blood pressure. If your doctor suspects you are at risk, he or she may order additional screening tests to evaluate you further.
Various tests are used to diagnose heart disease. Your doctor will start by taking your personal and family medical history, recording current and past symptoms, and doing laboratory tests and an electrocardiogram. Based on the results of the assessment and tests, your doctor may order further tests.
The following screening tests can be used to monitor your heart health:
Blood Pressure Screening. If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Although more than 30% of adults have high blood pressure, many may be unaware of it. Because most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, it is critical to have regular blood pressure screenings. Blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mm Hg. Patients with blood pressure levels higher than this can manage the condition through lifestyle changes or medication. As early as the age of 18, your healthcare provider will begin screening you on a regular basis. He or she will take your blood pressure at each visit if you do not have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high, you will be closely monitored until it is consistently less than 120/80 mmHg for an extended period of time.
Screening for Cholesterol. Patients with high cholesterol are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at some point in their lives. The good news is that cholesterol can be controlled with medication or by changing one's lifestyle. If your doctor suspects you have heart disease, he or she will likely order a cholesterol test, also known as a lipid panel or lipid profile, to determine your cholesterol levels. A cholesterol test can tell you how much plaque is accumulating on your artery walls, which can lead to blocked arteries and, ultimately, a heart attack or stroke. If your cholesterol levels are normal, you should be tested every four to six years, beginning at the age of 18. If you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, your doctor will closely monitor your condition and perform more frequent tests. Normal cholesterol targets are as follows:
Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL,
LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, and
HDL cholesterol greater than 40 mg/dL
Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL
The failure to appropriately treat abnormal cholesterol levels could equate to medical malpractice.
Body Mass Index (BMI). At each visit, your healthcare professional will weigh you and calculate your BMI. Obesity is defined as a BMI greater than 30 and is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, or atrial fibrillation. For most adults, BMI is a calculation that measures the amount of fat in their bodies. BMI measurements are used by doctors to calculate a numerical value for your weight in comparison to others of the same gender and height. You are considered underweight if your BMI is less than 18.5 kg/m2. Normal weight is defined as a BMI between 18.5 and 26 kg/m2, while overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 kg/m2 and 29.9 kg/m2.
Blood Glucose Test (Screening for Blood Sugar Levels). You are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease if you have high blood glucose levels, which can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. In fact, depending on your age at diagnosis, uncontrolled diabetes can reduce your life expectancy by 5–15 years. If you are overweight (BMI between 25 kg/m2 and 29.9 kg/m2) and have another heart disease risk factor, your healthcare provider will recommend a blood glucose screening. If you are at high risk of developing diabetes, your doctor will start screening you at 45 and repeat the tests every three years. The failure to appropriately screen or monitor could equate to medical malpractice.
Lifestyle Screenings. At each annual physical, your healthcare provider will discuss smoking, your diet, and your level of exercise. If you are at risk of developing heart disease and are not getting regular physicals, make an appointment to talk about treatments to help you quit smoking, improve your diet, and increase your physical activity levels. It is never too late to change your lifestyle to lower your risk of heart disease. Even if you are 60 years old and decide to stop smoking, you could live an extra three years.
EKG/ECG Screening. An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a noninvasive diagnostic test used to detect heart problems. Electrodes are attached to your body during an ECG to detect electrical activity in the heart. If you have any of the following heart symptoms, your healthcare provider may order an EKG or ECG. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats. Chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack may be caused by blocked arteries. Symptoms of an abnormality in the heart's chambers or valves. The failure to appropriately interpret an EKG or ECG could equate to medical malpractice.
Exercise Stress Test: A treadmill test, also known as an exercise stress test, can help diagnose coronary artery disease, determine a safe exercise level, and determine the cause of some symptoms. During this test, you will be asked to walk on a treadmill while wearing a heart monitor. The monitor will assist your healthcare provider in assessing your heart function.
Exercise Perfusion Stress Test: Like an exercise stress test, an exercise perfusion stress test uses radioactive tracers to measure blood flow to the heart. The tracers aid in monitoring how your blood flows while you exercise.
Nuclear Stress Test: A nuclear stress test is similar to an exercise perfusion stress test, except that your healthcare provider uses IV medications to raise your heart rate instead of exercise. When the ideal heart rate is reached, your healthcare provider will administer a radioactive tracer to monitor blood flow during exercise.
Echocardiography. An echocardiogram can assess the function of your heart chambers and heart valves. During this test, an echocardiogram and ultrasound of the heart are performed while you are exercising and resting.
Holter Recording. If you have irregular heartbeats, your healthcare provider may advise you to wear a Holter monitor or portable EKG device to obtain a record of your heart's activity. A Holter monitor is a small device that records your heart's activity throughout the day for 24 to 48 hours. Because abnormal heart rhythms can occur at any time, a Holter monitor can track your heartbeat as you go about your daily activities.
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