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  • Writer's pictureMCMC

The Importance of Heart Screens

Most of us don’t think about our hearts until we have chest pain or related symptoms. However, the harsh reality is 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly from a cardiac event have no symptoms at all.

Our hearts may not come with official owner’s manuals, but we can still be proactive in early detection of heart disease- just as we may already be for breast or prostate cancer through regular mammograms or prostate exams.

People in their 40s, or younger for those of us at increased risk of heart disease, should have regular visits to your primary care provider. A review of your lifestyle habits, along with your family health history, will help your healthcare provider develop a risk profile that is specifically tailored to you.

If you have risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, family history of heart disease, or a past or current smoking habit – and you are a man 40 or older, or a woman 45 or older, a calcium scoring heart scan is an important early screening option.

A calcium scoring heart scan is a quick, non-invasive test that measures calcium build-up in your coronary arteries, which can be an indicator of heart disease. Your calcium score and other risk indicators will determine what type of follow-up treatment you will need, which may include lifesaving bypass surgery for cases of severe blockage.

In a bypass procedure, the surgeon creates an alternate route for blood flow by removing a healthy vein or artery from another part of the body and grafting it near the narrowed coronary artery.

Another screening option is a peripheral vascular disease (PVD) screening, which can help protect you from life-threatening events, such as blood clots, stroke, heart attack and aneurysm. PVD, the broad term for circulatory disorders, refers to any one of several diseases of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. It may involve the arteries, veins or even lymphatic system.

For instance, peripheral artery disease is where a plaque blockage in your arteries makes it impossible for you to get enough blood to your legs, arms, stomach, and/or kidneys. This can cause pain and you may experience other symptoms as well, like erectile dysfunction or a non-healing wound. However, some individuals with peripheral artery disease experience no symptoms, or mild symptoms they mistake for something else.

A screening is the first step in protecting yourself against this disease. Screening is especially important if you have suspicious symptoms or if you’re at higher risk for vascular disease due to obesity, smoking, diabetes or your family history.

A PVD screening starts with completion of your health history and a physical exam, which includes an ankle brachial index. This painless test compares the blood pressure in your leg to the pressure in your arm. If a problem is identified, your provider may order additional tests.

Other tests that may be performed include aortic aneurysm screening, an ultrasound of the body’s largest blood vessel that’s partially located in the abdomen, and carotid artery disease screening, an ultrasound of the main artery in your neck which leads to the brain.

Many patients can manage peripheral artery disease or even reverse the symptoms through medication and lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, supervised exercise/rehab programs, low-fat diets and attention to blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Seeking medical treatment for lingering wounds also is important. In some cases, surgical procedures are required to correct blockages and other conditions.

Murray County Medical Center offers both a wound clinic for longstanding wounds, as well as Phase II Cardiac Rehabilitation. Call (507) 836-6111 to learn more.

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