Early heart disease detection saves lives

Key takeaways:

  • Detecting coronary artery disease early could be life-changing for thousands of people living with this often-silent killer.
  • Researchers have developed a screening questionnaire to identify heart disease earlier.

[2 MIN READ]

Identifying coronary artery disease in its earliest stages could mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people who don’t realize they are at risk from this potentially life-threatening condition.

Coronary artery disease is also known as atherosclerosis. It's an illness that occurs when fat, calcium, and cholesterol deposits build up in the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. This condition restricts your blood flow and increases your chances of having a heart attack. Recent research showed that more than 40% of the middle-aged adults studied had coronary artery disease without their knowledge. Early detection of this silent killer could help prolong their lives.

Recent research showed that more than 40% of the middle-aged adults studied had coronary artery disease without their knowledge. 

The Swedish CArdioPulmonary Biolmage Study (SCAPIS) was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020. The study looked at more than 30,000 men and women who had no prior history of heart attack or cardiac disease. All participants filled out a questionnaire that recorded personal information, including their age, gender, smoking history, blood pressure, cholesterol medication use and body measurements. They also underwent advanced imaging tests using coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) that provided advanced imaging of their blood vessels.

Researchers found that atherosclerosis was common in just under half of the study’s subjects, with men and older people recording the highest incidence rates. The answers they gave in their questionnaires were often accurate predictors that testing would reveal coronary artery disease.

Early intervention often creates the best chance of a successful outcome and early detection that addresses a problem before symptoms develop is a potential lifesaver.

The SCAPIS study illustrates what experts already knew—many people don’t realize they have coronary artery disease until a health crisis makes them aware of their illness. And since early intervention often creates the best chance of a successful outcome, early detection that addresses a problem before symptoms develop is a potential lifesaver.

Are you at risk?

Heart screening tests help identify unknown heart issues so you can take steps to prevent them from damaging your heart. Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you’re older than 35 and have one or more risk factors outlined by the American Heart Association, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet

A screening doesn’t take much extra time and it could help identify health issues before they develop into heart disease.

Types of heart-healthy screenings

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, with stroke and heart attack accounting for roughly one-third of all deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Several heart screening tests can help determine if your heart health has any red flags that deserve your attention.

Many of these basic screenings can be done during your routine yearly physical exam. Your doctor will typically check your blood pressure, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). Be sure and discuss any health challenges you're facing, such as smoking, inactive lifestyle or unhealthy diet.

In addition to routine monitoring, a series of noninvasive tests can help your doctor determine if you’re at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, including:

  • Comprehensive cholesterol screening—measures the levels of triglycerides, glucose, good and bad cholesterol and blood sugar present in your blood.
  • Echocardiogram—a noninvasive test that uses ultrasound to create images of your heart’s chambers and valves to evaluate your heart’s function and detect any issues within your heart muscle or valves.
  • Carotid artery screening—ultrasound imaging of your carotid artery to assess your blood flow’s rate and speed.
  • Abdominal aortic screening—determines if you have an aortic aneurysm that's causing dangerous bulging or swelling in the blood vessel (aorta) in your abdomen.
  • Peripheral arterial disease screening—uses a special device called an ankle-brachial index (ABI) to measure and compare the blood pressure in your legs and arms to identify blockage or narrowing in your arteries.
  • Metabolic syndrome calculation—tests for a cluster of metabolic disorders that increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • Framingham score calculation—an algorithm used to measure your risk of developing cardiovascular disease over ten years.

Talk to your doctor to determine if you should add heart health screenings to your to-do list. It could save your life.

What steps are you taking to protect your #HeartHealth? Share your strategies with readers @providence.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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