Now is an excellent time to think about heart health–even if you’re in great shape. When it comes to your heart, the goal is to catch potential problems early and avoid reaching a crisis. You can promote heart health by getting regular checkups with your primary care provider and working to stay fit through nutrition and exercise.
What Are The Best Tests To Check For Heart Problems?
Your primary care provider has several simple tools for detecting heart disease, heart attack, and stroke risk. Routine cholesterol and blood pressure checks are part of most regular checkups. If you have symptoms or a family history of heart disease, your provider may recommend additional blood tests.
- A standard lipid panel is an essential tool for detecting high cholesterol. This profile looks for several fats in your blood, including total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides.
- An HS-CRP test checks for high-sensitivity C-Reactive Proteins (CRP). These are proteins made by your liver in response to inflammation. Since inflammation plays a significant role in clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), HS-CRP tests can determine your risk of heart disease before you have symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) is another protein that your body produces at high levels when there’s stress on your heart. BNP blood tests, combined with other tests, can help diagnose heart attack risk.
What Are The Signs Of An Unhealthy Heart?
Many of us are aware of the red flag signs of a heart attack: chest pressure and pain extending through the arm. But there are other more “sneaky” signs of heart disease we should all be aware of. According to the American Heart Association, the symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or lightheadedness
- Breaking out in a cold sweat for no apparent reason
In addition to these warning signs, Harvard Medical School has identified some often-overlooked indications of an unhealthy heart:
- Swollen legs, feet, or ankles
- Heart palpitations
Remember that underlying conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity are linked to heart disease. Experts have also linked heart problems to snoring and sleep apnea. Finally, keep your family medical history in mind and let your primary care doctor know if family members have had heart attacks or heart disease. In this case, you may need extra testing even if you’re in good health.
How Are Heart Problems Diagnosed?
If symptoms or blood work indicates potential problems, your doctor can access multiple diagnostic tools. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a non-invasive test that records electrical signals in your heart and can detect abnormal heart rhythms.
- A Holter Monitor is a portable ECG device that a patient wears for 24 to 72 hours. It can detect problems that a regular ECG exam might not find.
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce detailed images of your heart’s structure.
- Cardiac catheterization involves inserting a catheter into your groin or arm to measure pressure in your heart chambers. Doctors can also inject a dye to check blood flow through your heart, blood vessels, and heart valves.
- A CT scan can give doctors a 3D video of your heart and show coronary artery blockages.
- An MRI can provide the most detailed images of your heart, giving your doctors a close look at tissue health and other factors.
- A Stress Test, sometimes called a treadmill test, involves walking on a treadmill at various inclines and speeds. This is a carefully monitored test that helps your provider determine how your heart handles activity.
Should I See My Primary Care Provider If I’m Concerned About Heart Health?
If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911. If you have non-urgent symptoms, risk factors or a family history of heart disease, your primary care provider is an excellent place to start. Harvard Medical School recommends seeing your doctor if:
- Symptoms come on with activity and then go away when you’re resting.
- You experience more than one of the symptoms identified above at a time.
- You have known risk factors, including high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s essential to keep up with regular checkups. Your primary care provider can often catch early warning signs through routine blood tests. At Comprehensive Primary Care, keeping our patients heart-healthy is a critical component of overall wellness. We routinely screen for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, along with other tests as needed. We also offer fitness and nutrition counseling to keep obesity in check and help patients lead healthy lifestyles. Let’s keep heart health front and center–during American Heart Month and all year long.