Heart screenings are important in detecting cardiac diseases before any symptoms may occur. The goal of a heart screening is to find the disease at its earliest and most treatable stage.
Screening tests may include laboratory tests to check blood and other fluids, genetic tests that look for inherited genetic markers linked to disease, and imaging tests that produce pictures of the inside of the body. These tests are typically available to the general population; however, an individual’s needs for a specific screening test are based on factors such as age, gender and family history.
There are several things you should expect during a heart screening. First your blood pressure will be taken. Blood pressure is an important indicator of heart disease and should be taken regularly. Then, you will often have your cholesterol checked (this does not occur in our youth heart screening program). Cholesterol is a waxy substance that builds up in the blood that can be both good and bad. Once 20, it is a good idea to get a blood test every 4-5 years to check this.
Next, doctors will test your glucose levels. Diabetes and heart disease go hand-in-hand, and if untreated, diabetes will increase your risk for heart disease. Doctors will then weigh you, ask about your family history, and ask about your lifestyle – your lifestyle and environment can greatly influence your risk for a variety of health conditions.
Depending on the results of the screening doctors may recommend further tests for the individual.
- Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart and reveals information on heart rate and rhythm.
- Exercise cardiac stress test, which involves walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike at increasing levels of difficulty, while heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and the electrical activity of the heart are monitored to determine if there is adequate blood flow to the heart when the heart is stressed.
- Echocardiography, which uses ultrasound to create moving pictures of the heart. In a stress echocardiography, an ultrasound of the heart is performed before and after the heart is stressed either through exercise or a medication that stimulates the heart.
- Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring, which examines the coronary arteries to measure the amount of calcium in the coronary arteries. Calcium is an indicator of the amount of plaque in the arteries. However, this test cannot evaluate the severity of coronary artery narrowing (stenosis) due to the plaque.
- Coronary CT angiography (CTA), which creates three-dimensional images of the coronary arteries to determine the exact location and extent of plaque buildup.
- Myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI), which a small amount of radioactive material is injected into the patient and accumulates in the heart. A special camera takes pictures of the heart while the patient is at rest and following exercise to determine the effect of physical stress on the flow of blood through the coronary arteries and to the heart muscle.
- Coronary catheter angiography, which takes pictures of the blood flow through coronary arteries, allowing the doctor to see any blockage or narrowing of the coronary arteries.
Although heart issues typically start arising around the age of 20, it is vital to get your heart screened at a younger age. It is important to take precautions and get your heart screened rather than waiting and risk finding out too late about a heart condition.
Note: Heart screenings put on by The Nick of Time Foundation entail, insight into family history of heart issues, how physically active the individual is, their blood pressure, height and weight, learning CPR and how to operate an AED, EKG test, review EKG test with a Doctor and then possibly get an Echocardiogram and get it reviewed by a Doctor and go over any next steps (if applicable).
-Vlad Elizarov, Alexander’s Hope Intern