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Many people don’t think about their hearts until they have chest pain or related symptoms. But 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly from a cardiac event have no symptoms.
While our hearts don’t come with owner’s manuals, we can be proactive in early detection of heart disease, just as we may already be for breast or prostate cancer through regular mammograms or prostate exams.
Once you hit your 40s, or earlier if you are at increased risk of heart disease, regular visits to your doctor are key. A review of your lifestyle habits along with your family health history will help your healthcare provider develop a risk profile.
If you have risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, family history of heart disease, or a past or current smoking habit – and are a man 40 and over, or a woman 45 and over, a calcium scoring heart scan is an important early screening option. This quick, non-invasive test measures calcium build-up in your coronary arteries, which can be an indicator of heart disease.
Your calcium score and other risk indicators will determine what type of follow-up treatment you will need, including lifesaving bypass surgery for cases of severe blockage. In a bypass procedure, the surgeon creates an alternate route for blood flow by removing a healthy vein or artery from another part of the body and grafting it near the narrowed coronary artery.
A peripheral vascular disease (PVD) screening is another test that can help protect you from life-threatening events, such as blood clots, stroke, heart attack and aneurysm.
PVD, the broad term for circulatory disorders, refers to any one of several diseases of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. It may involve the arteries, veins or even lymphatic system.
For example, when the problem is peripheral artery disease, a plaque blockage in the arteries makes it impossible for the legs, arms, stomach or kidneys to get enough blood. In addition to pain, possible symptoms include erectile dysfunction or a non-healing sore on the leg or foot. Other people with peripheral artery disease have no symptoms or mistake their symptoms for something else.
A screening is the first step in protecting yourself against this disease. Screening is especially key if you have suspicious symptoms or if you’re at higher risk for vascular disease due to obesity, smoking, diabetes or family history.
A PVD screening starts with completion of your health history and a physical exam that includes an ankle brachial index. This painless test compares the blood pressure in your leg to the pressure in your arm. If a problem is identified, your doctor may order additional tests.
Other tests that may be performed include aortic aneurysm screening, an ultrasound of the body’s largest blood vessel that’s partially located in the abdomen and carotid artery disease screening, an ultrasound of the main artery in your neck which leads to the brain.
Many patients can manage peripheral artery disease or even reverse the symptoms through medication and lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, supervised exercise/rehab programs, low-fat diets and attention to blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Seeking medical treatment for lingering wounds also is important. In some cases, surgical procedures are required to correct blockages and other conditions.
Schedule your heart scan and a peripheral vascular screening.
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