To keep your heart in check, doctors monitor many contributing factors and may order tests to see how your heart is functioning. Some leading preventative cardiologists are also working to prevent heart attacks and strokes with genetic testing and individualized care.
Unfortunately, a majority of Americans won’t get their recommended screenings, preventative care, or genetic testing.
Don’t be in that group! Help keep your heart healthy with the checks and tests in this article.
Risk Factors May Start Early in Life
It’s critical for many reasons, including heart health, to have routine checkups. However, research finds that only 8% of people over age 35 get wellness checks and preventative services! That’s alarming because doctors begin watching for contributing factors of heart disease, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, by the time you’re 20 years old. They’ll continue to monitor those levels throughout your life because they are two of the main factors that lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke.
By age 40, your health care provider will pay extra attention to your blood glucose levels and body mass index (BMI) as well because they are risk factors of CVD. Additionally, they’ll discuss lifestyle choices that put you at risk such as poor diet, inactivity, and cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke.
If they want to investigate further, your doctor may order one of these tests to see how your heart is functioning. These include:
- Cardiac CT scan – Often called a CAT scan, this test uses x-rays to make a 3D model of your heart and blood vessels. This helps them detect issues with blood vessels, blood supply, circulation, or heart function.
- Coronary calcium scan – This CT scan detects and measures calcifications or calcium buildup in the walls of your coronary arteries, which is a sign of heart disease and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries).
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – Using radio waves and magnets, this test helps doctors identify heart disease, its seriousness, and the best treatment. It looks at the heart muscle, chambers, and connecting blood vessels. A cardiac MRI can detect scarring, which is a sign of a silent heart attack, and inflammation, which can indicate infection.
- Carotid ultrasound – This ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the interior of your carotid arteries, the major blood vessels that provide your brain’s blood supply. It can detect plaque buildup and blocked blood flow. When done with a Doppler ultrasound, it can also show how the blood is moving through your arteries.
- Nuclear heart scan – Using special cameras and a radioactive substance, this imaging test creates pictures of your heart to detect heart disease, poor blood flow in the heart, blood circulation, and damaged heart muscle.
- Echocardiogram or echo – Often done with a Doppler ultrasound, it produces images of your heart with soundwaves so your doctor can see blood moving through your heart and how it’s beating. An echo can detect blood clots in the heart, fluid buildup in the sac around the heart (pericardium), tumors, and aorta issues. It can also detect heart murmurs and their causes. There are several types of echo, but the most common are the transthoracic echo and stress echo, done as part of a stress test in which you exercise or take medication to make the heart work so it beats quickly.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – An EKG detects and records your heart’s electrical activity to see how fast it beats, the rhythm of heartbeats, and strength of electrical impulses in the heart.
- Holter and event monitors – These small, portable electrocardiogram devices record the heart’s electrical activity over time while you do your typical activities. They also record how fast your heart beats, its rhythm, and the strength of electrical impulses going through each part of the heart. It checks for an irregular heartbeat.
- Exercise stress test – Typically, while you exercise for 10-15 minutes, an electrocardiogram measures your heart’s electrical activity and heart rate. Your doctor will probably monitor your blood pressure and blood oxygen as well. If you have symptoms of heart issues like a rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, your doctor may order this test.
- Coronary angiography – Using contrast dye and x-ray pictures, this test can detect coronary artery blockages that stop the heart from getting enough oxygen and nutrients. Done with cardiac catheterization (a catheter that goes through your blood vessels to your heart), it’s used to diagnose heart disease, typically after an EKG or stress test shows abnormal results.
Using Genetics to Prevent CVD and Stroke
All of these tests and screenings are vital for assuring heart health, but some health care providers are testing for genetic risk factors and minor plaque buildup before to prevent cardiovascular problems from developing.
Dr. Bradley Bale, MD, and Amy Doneen, DNP and ARNP, are teaching doctors across the country the BaleDoneen Method of preventing CVD, vascular diseases, stroke, and diabetes. In addition to the above tests and screenings, doctors using the BaleDoneen Method use advanced lab tests to help find and extinguish arterial inflammation, which may prevent or reverse CVD.
Doctors using the BaleDoneen method aim to keep your 60,000 miles of arteries healthy with individualized care based on your unique genetic makeup. More than half of Americans carry one or more gene variants that drastically increase risk for heart disease and stroke. Doctors using this method say testing for these five key variants may literally save your life. (Learn more about the genetic predictors and tests here.)
Although they’ve been using and teaching the BaleDoneen Method for over a decade – and research supporting it is over two decades old – it’s still not the standard of care yet. That means tests may not be covered by your insurance.
Bale, Doneen, and all the graduates of their preceptorship hope that changes soon because they say genetic testing and individualized preventative care cannot start too early. In fact, they recommend mothers have genetic testing before getting pregnant.
“Genetics can tell us all kinds of things, like our lifetime risk of anything,” says Doneen. “Genetics in any field can offer the opportunity for more individualized in therapy. We select genes that show their lifetime risk of things that might affect their heart health.”
While BaleDoneen tests may not be covered by insurance, Dr. Bale insists that insurance companies are not the best guides to optimal care. Preventing future health challenges is invaluable. If you want to learn more about this care, check here to find a BaleDoneen practitioner in your area or one that uses telemedicine.