According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Heart disease is a general term used to describe a range of conditions affecting the heart, which includes conditions that can result in plaque buildup along the walls of the arteries. Plaque buildup along the walls of the arteries is concerning because it narrows the arteries creating risk for serious complications such as heart attacks and strokes.
The key to protecting our patients from these serious complications is screening. The American Heart Association recommends patients undergo annual screening to assess for risk factors associated with development of heart disease. Risk factors associated with development of heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and family history of cardiovascular disorders. Your risk factors for development of heart disease can be assessed by one of our providers during a routine office visit. During this office visit, you can expect the provider to check your weight, check your blood pressure, and review lifestyle factors that may contribute to development of heart disease. A sample of blood will also be collected to allow for further evaluation of your cholesterol levels, your blood sugar, and the presence of cardiac markers associated with development of heart disease.
Once the results of your screening are available for review, an appointment will be scheduled with one of our providers to receive personalized counseling geared toward managing any modifiable risk factors associated with development of heart disease. Counseling will often cover lifestyle modifications such as weight management, dietary modifications, physical activity guidelines, and smoking cessation. If lifestyle modifications are not adequately managing your risk factors for development of heart disease, our providers may also consider adding appropriate prescription medications to better control some risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Despite screening and management of risk factors, some patients will begin to experience signs and symptoms that suggest heart disease may be present. These signs and symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, feeling skips in the heart beat, dizziness, blurred vision, severe headaches, or swelling in the legs. Patients with these signs and symptoms will typically require more advanced screening, which can also be performed in our office with one of our providers. More advanced screening tests may include the following:
Electrocardiography (EKG): An electrocardiogram is a recording of the electrical signals generated by the heart allowing for detection of abnormal heart rhythms, heart blocks, or signs of a heart attack.
Holter Monitor: The Holter monitor is a small device worn on the body for a period of 24 hours to continuously monitor the electrical signals generated by the heart for detection of transiently irregular heart beats.
Resting Echocardiogram (Echo): A resting echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that is used that is used to to evaluate the size of the heart, movement of blood through the heart, and function of the heart valves, and contraction of the heart muscle.
Exercise Stress Test: During an exercise stress test, the patient will be asked to walking or jog on a treadmill to evaluate how the blood pressure and heart respond to the demands of physical activity.
Stress Echocardiogram (Stress Echo): During a stress echocardiogram, an ultrasound image will be taken of the heart before and immediately after an exercise stress test to provide more detailed information about the electrical activity and functional of the heart in response to the demands of physical activity.
Carotid Doppler: A carotid doppler is an ultrasound of the carotid arteries, which are located in the neck, to assess for cholesterol plaques which would block blood flow from the heart to the brain.
It is important to note that very few of us will have ideal results on all screening tests for heart disease. Please remember that if your screening results are less than ideal, this does not mean you are destined to develop heart disease. Less than ideal results will instead allow you the opportunity to recognize your risk for heart disease and make positive changes to better your health.