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Leading Medicine Magazine, Vol 7, No 1 - 2013

WARNING SIGNS OF POTENTIAL HEART CONDITIONS: £ Chest discomfort or shortness of breath during exertion £ Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat while at rest £ Passing out or losing consciousness when active £ More fatigue than peers when active £ Seizure activity or involuntary muscle movement SCREENINGS AND TESTS Echocardiogram. This noninvasive test uses sound waves to produce an image of the heart. In some countries outside the United States, it is used to screen all adolescents before they participate in sports to rule out congenital abnormalities that could result in harm during exertion. Stress test. For people with lower risk factors or who are looking to become fit after being inactive, a cardiac stress test can be an effective indicator of potential heart disease risk. A combination of treadmill exercise and echocardiogram, a stress test is best at revealing major blockages — 70 percent or more — and people who “pass” the test could still have significant blockages and suffer a heart attack. So if your risk is higher, a more detailed test may be appropriate. CT angiography. This test uses a powerful chest X-ray that scans the heart for any plaque buildup in the system. It can reveal blockages as minimal as 10–20 percent, and does not involve an invasive catheter like a traditional angiogram, but it does use radiation and may not be advised for everyone. Carotid ultrasound. Another noninvasive test that uses sound waves to produce images of the carotid arteries in the neck. It helps identify blockages and assess risk of heart disease or stroke. Methodist also puts on a low-cost screening event every year for student athletes in the community. It involves a physical exam, detailed family history, and cardiologists and imaging experts on site to consult or perform and interpret an echocardiogram for those at risk for heart disease. PREVENTION While congenital defects cannot be prevented, there are steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of heart disease. Dr. Christie Ballantyne, a cardiologist at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, recommends the “ABCs” of prevention: aspirin, blood pressure, cholesterol, diet and exercise. (Daily aspirin regimens are not recommended for all adults, so you should always consult your physician before starting a new aspirin or exercise regimen.) Knowing your numbers, staying fit and maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet are all key to preventing heart disease, especially if you are not genetically predisposed. STIMULANTS AND SUPPLEMENTS Some athletes and active people use stimulants or supplements, such as anabolic steroids or growth hormones, to enhance muscle building and athletic performance. But the price they pay for superhuman strength comes with lots of potential damage: thickening of the heart muscle, elevated blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, psychiatric problems, liver effects, weight gain, kidney failure, and the list goes on. Over-the-counter stimulants, some of which are equivalent to 20 cups of coffee at once, can cause dangerous levels of stress on the heart, as well as rhythm disturbances. “Exercise training by itself is all you need,” says Quiñones. “Supplements aren’t going to do a thing.” Still not convinced? Ballantyne’s advice is also direct: “The bottom line is, don’t use them.” These supplements and stimulants simply carry too much risk — much of it long term — to be worth the temporary effects. 16 methodisthealth.com/leadingmedicine


Leading Medicine Magazine, Vol 7, No 1 - 2013
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