Tips to Live By

Be Heart Smart: Get Screened for Heart Disease

Feb. 3, 2020

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. But many people aren't even aware they are at risk of heart and vascular disease until after they suffer a major health event, such as a heart attack, aneurysm rupture or stroke.

Cardiovascular disease can be accompanied by vague symptoms or none at all, so learning your risk can save your life.

Dr. Gholamreza Khoshnevis, cardiologist at Houston Methodist, says the good news is you can help prevent life-threatening heart disease and other related conditions from developing and progressing by taking steps that include:

  • Leading a healthier lifestyle by being active and following a heart-friendly diet
  • Getting regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks
  • Asking your doctor whether you may benefit from a heart scan or vascular screening

"In addition, being aware of your risk factors is key to preventing the onset of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions," Dr. Khoshnevis says.

Heart screenings can help determine your risk of developing heart disease

A heart and vascular screening can help you understand your risk, which is one of the first steps toward prevention. The screenings use imaging technology, including CT scans and ultrasounds, to look for symptoms such as calcium buildup of plaque on the artery walls and thickened arteries. They also check for blockages and other potential signs of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Khoshnevis says heart and vascular screenings are beneficial for men between 40 and 65 and women between 45 and 70, or if you have one of the following risk factors for coronary artery disease:

  • Current cigarette smoker, especially if you are a heavy smoker
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure or hypertension (greater than 140/90)
  • High cholesterol (LDL greater than 160)

There are many noninvasive ways to screen for cardiovascular diseases, such as:

  • Carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) – a vascular ultrasound exam used for risk assessment and to check blockages that takes about 10 minutes to complete
  • Heart scan – a computed tomography (CT) scan used to detect coronary artery disease that takes about 15 minutes to complete
  • Vascular screening – an ultrasound and blood pressure cuffs used to screen for carotid artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm and peripheral artery disease (PAD) that takes about 15 minutes to complete

How to prevent heart disease if you're at risk

If your screenings indicate that you have heart or vascular disease or that you're at increased risk, there are steps you can take to improve and manage your health.

The lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of heart disease or experiencing complications from it include:

If lifestyle changes aren't enough, your doctor may prescribe medications. The drugs you'll take depend on your situation. If you've been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, your doctor may prescribe aspirin, a statin and potentially a few other medications. 

For more advanced disease, heart or vascular procedures or surgeries may be recommend. But know that most procedures today are minimally invasive and don't require open-heart surgery or long recoveries in the hospital afterward.

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