Screening Tests to Stay Heart Healthy

Screening Tests to Stay Heart Healthy

Is your heart healthy? Unless you have symptoms, you may never even think about the health of your heart. 

But there are some simple screenings and numbers to track to protect yourself against heart attack and stroke, says Dr. Kit Powers, a cardiologist at University Health.

In particular, he says, you should know your:

  • blood pressure
  • blood sugar levels
  • cholesterol levels

Blood pressure checks are widely available, including at your primary care office. A quick blood draw can check blood sugar for diabetes risk and for abnormal cholesterol levels. The LDL cholesterol (the low-density lipoproteins, a.k.a. “bad cholesterol”) numbers are especially important.

What Should My Cholesterol Numbers Be?

Ideally, your LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dL.

For levels above 100 mg/dL, treatment may simply involve changes in lifestyle and diet, though people with higher overall risk may need medications as well.

If your cholesterol level is greater than 190 mg/dL, your doctor will likely recommend starting cholesterol treatment medication.

Even if your cholesterol levels are in the normal range, be sure to get re-tested every five years, or more frequently if you have a family history of heart problems.

Blood Pressure Numbers

Blood pressure in the normal range is less than 120 mm Hg (systolic) and less than 80 mm Hg (diastolic).

Coronary Calcium Score

People with mid-range cholesterol levels or an intermediate risk of heart problems can opt to get a screening to determine their coronary calcium score. This test involves a CT scan of your heart to evaluate calcified plaque in your arteries. The lower the number, the better. People with an elevated coronary calcium score may need treatment. 

Calculate Your Risk for Heart Attack or Stroke

If you’re over age 40, Powers recommends taking a simple assessment of your risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years. This atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) assessment allows you to input your blood pressure, cholesterol numbers and risk factors (such as age, diabetes or smoking), and the formula will calculate your risk for you.

Connection to Eye Health

You may be surprised to learn that regular eye exams are also a good way to keep tabs on your heart health. If your ophthalmologist notices anything concerning, follow up with a visit to your primary care provider to discuss your risk of cardiovascular problems. 

If these screenings show that you have a higher risk of heart problems, the cardiologists at University Health can conduct other tests—such as an electrocardiogram, cardiac stress test, coronary angiogram or cardiac MRI—to further evaluate your heart and recommend appropriate treatment to keep you healthy for years to come.

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