Chances are, you have already heard about the dangers of heart disease as the leading cause of death for both men and women. You may even already be taking precautions to help safeguard your heart like eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet and focusing on regular exercise. But, is there more that you could or should be doing to keep your heart protected?
Well-known diagnostic tools such as EKGs, stress tests, and basic imaging tests serve a very important role in diagnosing and monitoring various heart conditions. However, they are not the only useful tests that a patient may need. Below are five preventative screenings that you may not have heard of but that can tell you a lot about the health of your heart.
Coronary Calcium Scan
Everyone knows that calcium is important for the bones but far fewer realize its importance in predicting heart health. This particular test looks specifically for calcium that is connected to plaque buildup in the arteries and gives physicians a good idea of exactly how much is there. This insight can give both patient and doctor a major heads up on potential risk for a heart attack or stroke and allow for early proactive treatment.
If you are over the age of 50 and have certain risk factors, a coronary calcium scan may be a good idea. However, because the scan exposes patients to a large amount of radiation, it isn’t recommended for everyone. Ask your cardiologist if it may be a good idea for you.
Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT)
A CIMT is a screening test of the carotid artery that supplies blood to the head and brain. The test uses ultrasound technology to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the artery known as the intima and the media. Abnormal thickness here has been shown to be linked to coronary artery disease, and early detection indicate a need for better management of certain risk factors.
If you are over 40 or have a close family relative who suffered a stroke or heart attack prior to the age of 55, a CIMT may be recommended for you.
High-Sensitivity C-reactive Protein Test (hs-CRP)
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein found in the blood which increases in response to inflammation. In certain cases where infection is suspected, a physician may conduct a blood test to review the levels of CRP in the blood. A high-sensitivity c-reactive protein test, however, can give even greater levels of insight and may be used to help evaluate a patient’s risk of developing coronary artery disease, as cholesterol plaque and damaged blood vessels lead to inflammation.
A hs-CRP test is most often recommended for those who are believed to have a 5-10 percent chance of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years based on risk factors such as lifestyle, exiting medical conditions and family history.
Advanced Lipid Testing
Normal cholesterol testing measures three main factors in the blood: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) indicate what many refer to as high cholesterol. However, this does not always give a complete picture. It is not just the number of LDL particles that matter, it is also their size. Research has indicated that those who have smaller, denser LDL particles are at a much greater risk of developing coronary artery disease. For this reason, advanced lipid testing to help determine particle size may also be recommended.
Patients who should consider advanced lipid testing include those with a medical history of cardiovascular disease or who have a family history of heart disease, particularly occurring in men younger than 55 or women younger than 65.
Low-Dose CT (LDCT) Lung Screening Exam
Smoking is a well-known contributor to the development of many health conditions, including heart disease and, of course, lung cancer. As part of your health care team, your cardiologist may recommend a LDCT lung screening if you meet certain risk factors. This test is useful in the detection of lung cancer in its early stages, before symptoms present and while it is more easily treated. Those who are best suited for the exam are those between the ages of 55 and 74 who are asymptomatic, current smokers or previous smokers who have quite within the past 15 years, and who smoked an average of one pack or more of cigarettes per day for 30 years.
Keeping a careful watch on your cardiovascular health is important regardless of age or risk factors. However, for those who are at an increased risk for heart-related problems, more in-depth testing may be needed. The screenings listed above are just five examples of advanced testing available today. In order to best understand which tests may be beneficial to you, speak with a cardiologist about your own risk factors and the exact precautions, including diagnostic screenings, they recommend.