According to recently released statistics from the American Heart Association, about 92.1 million Americans are living with some sort of heart disease or the after effects of a stroke and most of the rest of us have at least one or two risk factors. That’s why doctors use a variety of tests to look beyond the symptoms and discover exactly how your heart is performing.
And its why it is so important to have an established relationship with a primary care doctor and have an annual exam.
“Your primary care team can guide all important prevention efforts, be a coach for activity, diet, lifestyle and important medications and, when necessary, select the most appropriate and effective consultants,” says Ascension Medical Group cardiologist Barry Murphy, MD.
There are many types of heart disease and many tests to help doctors diagnose and manage them. Here are some of the basics on what preventive and other exams exist to help you find out if you’re at risk from heart disease:
• Measures the level of proteins in the blood stream. Heart muscle cells release proteins into the blood stream as they die, so higher than normal levels of these proteins can confirm a heart attack.
• Measures levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides; high levels of LDL and/or low levels of HDL may require treatment with a cholesterol-lowering medication. Allows early detection of cardiovascular disease when symptoms have not occurred. Angina, recurring or acute chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, is a late sign that must be taken seriously.
• Uses special X-rays and dye delivered through a thin tube or catheter inserted into a blood vessel in the arm, groin or neck and threaded through the vessel until it reaches the coronary artery to show the inside of coronary arteries and help locate blockages during a heart attack.
• Uses sound waves to produce images of the heart that can reveal areas that may have been damaged by poor blood flow.
ELECTROCARDIOGRAM, OR EKG
• Traces the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat. By looking at the pattern of your heart beats, the doctor can tell if the blood flowing through your heart has been slowed, interrupted or is simply not getting to the heart.
• Walking: Allows a doctor to see what happens to your heart while you are walking on a treadmill or pedaling on an exercise bike.
• Nuclear: Shows where blood flow is inadequate using a radioactive substance injected into the blood stream to create images of the heart.
With any type of heart disease, you may or may not have symptoms. With the aid of tests, your primary care clinician or specialist can be reasonably certain about diagnosis and treatment.
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