Heart screenings: why and when you need them

heart-screenings

The best way to prevent heart disease is understanding and managing your risk factors. For many people, this can be as simple as scheduling an annual checkup with your primary care physician to screen for things like:

  • weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol
  • fasting blood glucose

Knowing those numbers can help determine if you need to make lifestyle modifications or seek further treatment for potential heart conditions.  

But when should you ask for a more comprehensive heart screening?

“For patients with two or more risk factors who are experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or irregular heartbeats, we would consider additional cardiac tests,” says Beaumont cardiologist Chandrakant Pujara, M.D.

Dr. Pujara said these tests could include:

ELECTROCARDIOGRAM (EKG)

An EKG checks your heart’s electrical system and heart rhythm.

When and why: If you have risk factors for an enlarged heart such as high blood pressure, or symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. If you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes or other risk factors and want to start an exercise program, this test may also be beneficial.

EXERCISE STRESS TEST

An exercise stress test looks for abnormal changes in your heart during exercise.

When and why: If you have symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, or heavy heartbeats. If you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes or other risk factors and want to start an exercise program, this test may also be beneficial.

ECHOCARDIOGRAM

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to look at the size and shape of your heart to check for abnormalities in the heart valves, chambers, walls and blood vessels

When and why: If your doctor believes symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath are the result of a problem with your heart’s structure.

CALCIUM SCORING

Calcium scoring uses a computed tomography (CT) scan and looks for buildup of calcium in the plaque on the walls of the arteries.

When and why: If you are at medium risk for heart disease, this test can help determine your risk for a heart attack, stroke or heart disease. Your doctor may use the results to modify your treatment plan or suggest lifestyle modifications.

While these tests can be beneficial to help properly diagnose and treat heart disease, they are not for everyone. It’s important to talk with your cardiologist or primary care physician to determine if and when you should have these screenings.

“Selection and frequency of more advanced testing should be discussed with your physician,” says Dr. Pujara. “Prevention is often more beneficial than fancy (and at times costly) procedures that aren’t right for everyone.”

If you do have a family history or risk factors for heart disease, it’s important to be educated on your condition and know what you can do to prevent a more serious heart issue. Screening programs like Beaumont’s 7 for $70 heart and vascular screening can provide you the tools and information you need to make lifestyle changes or seek further treatment.

Being educated from prevention to screening to treatment is critical when managing potential heart disease, Dr. Pujara added. Many of the major risk factors for heart disease can be modified, tested and controlled with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. 

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