Maintaining a healthy heart takes work. You have to manage diet and exercise, limit alcohol intake and stop smoking. You have to juggle blood pressure, good and bad cholesterol, and manage your blood sugar.
(Wondering what to expect during your first scan? This free guide will walk you through the process step by step.)
When you know what to look out for, and why you are doing it, it becomes easier. There are several key health screenings to help monitor your heart problems. You can help yourself now by starting these checkups if you haven't already.
Blood Pressure Screening
One of the easiest things you can do is to check your blood pressure. Typically, blood pressure is normal at about 120/80. If it goes much higher than that, then you should check it often, and lower it with diet and exercise or medication when necessary.
It can be tricky, blood pressure symptoms aren’t always obvious. But you can simply check it at the grocery store or purchase an affordable cuff monitor. Of course, you should consult your doctor about what you can do to help manage your blood pressure as well.
Since high blood pressure can go unnoticed for so long, you may find yourself getting used to health issues that are associated with high blood pressure. If left unchecked, it can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure:
- Chronic or severe headaches
- Blurry vision
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
You can't test cholesterol on your own because you need a special fasting lipoprotein profile taken every few years. Normally, people go between 4 to 6 years between tests to see how they are maintaining. However, your doctor will make recommendations based on your particular case.
There is good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), and there is bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) that you will need to manage throughout your life. Many people can help manage their cholesterol through diet and exercise. If you are struggling with yours, your doctor may prescribe medication.
Cholesterol is another silent killer. Many will go for years with simple issues that build up over time because there are no identifiable symptoms related to high cholesterol. Regular checks can help guard against heart disease and stroke.
Blood Sugar Screening
Everyone loves to have their dessert after dinner, but too much can increase your chances at insulin resistance and set you on the course for diabetes. If you are overweight, you stand a higher chance of type 2 diabetes and if left unchecked can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Thankfully, diet and exercise can help ward off these dangerous issues. Going for fruit rather than candy, and vegetables rather than carbs can help limit risk for diabetes. Talking with your doctor and getting set up with the proper medications is necessary if these issues are left untreated.
Symptoms of High Blood Sugar
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach pain
- Fruity breath odor
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heartbeat
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar
If blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure results lead your physician to be concerned about heart disease. You might be scheduled to complete some other heart screening tests.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
This test records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s not a typical test for annual health exams, but it could be requested by a doctor to determine a heart attack (past or present). It can also diagnose other problems, such as abnormal heart rhythms or enlarged heart chambers.
A doctor might request this test to monitor heart activity over a period of time, such as 24 to 48 hours.
This test examines heart activity over several weeks and includes the patient pushing a button when they are experiencing certain symptoms.
Exercise Stress Test
A stress test usually involves a patient walking on a treadmill to determine how much stress a heart can handle before abnormal symptoms begin.
Myocardial perfusion scan
This test uses a small dose of radioactive material injected into a vein to determine blood flow to the heart. A special camera will capture the substance as it travels through the arteries.
This test requires beaming ultrasound waves at the heart and uses the echo of the wave to get a better understanding of how the heart valves are working.
Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT)
Some patients need this imaging procedure to detect calcium deposits in the arteries. Some studies indicate a higher presence of calcium increases the risk of heart disease.
What to do after a screening
If a heart screening reveals concerning heart issues, you still have control over your health. There are several lifestyle changes you can make today to ensure your heart will be strong and healthy for decades to come.
Making Proper Diet Choices
We have mentioned diet several times, but what constitutes a good diet? Picking out fresh fruits and vegetables will give you the vitamins and minerals you need to live a healthy life.
Smaller portion sizes will go a long way to helping you have a healthy weight. If you have to eat four or five smaller meals rather than three large meals, you may find yourself going for the healthier options rather than junk food.
Depending on your dietary needs, you may look to cut back on red meat and cheese to keep your cholesterol in check. Less fruit and more veggies are important if you are pre-diabetic. If blood pressure is a problem, cutting back on your sodium intake will go a long way.
Talk with your doctor and dietician to determine what diet is right for you and your particular circumstances. If you find that you need support and community, there are several diet programs that emphasize group engagement and incentives. You don't have to do this alone.
Not everyone is going to be able to run a marathon. Exercise can be as simple as walking the dog or going for a light swim. Many Americans are unable or unwilling to exert themselves more than needed. If you have the ability to go out and do something, your heart isn't the only thing that will benefit.
Your muscles may burn a little, but that means they are working hard. Exercise promotes blood flow and strengthens your heart. It also keeps blood flowing to your brain which means strengthening your mind too.
Talk with your doctor and find out what exercises would be right for you.
A physical therapist can help get your body back and moving again. If you are ready, go and take a jog, or choose low-impact sports like swimming or biking.
All of this can help you find a new outlook on life. These screenings are best paired with a heart scan, which will both reveal health concerns and give you early warning signs that can be corrected with simple lifestyle changes.
If you haven't had a heart scan yet, we want to let you know what to expect before you get here. Downloading our free guide can take out the guesswork and make you feel prepared and comfortable for your screening day.