Written by Myles Spar
Posted on: September 12, 2017
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is responsible for approximately one in three deaths in the United States, with around 2,200 Americans dying from it every day. The Heart Association also reports that about 790,000 people have heart attacks in the US every year, and 114,000 of these will die. I’m very familiar with these sobering statistics, which is why I wrote here about the top 5 foods for heart attack and stroke prevention and here about how basic diet changes can affect heart health. While I firmly believe in the ability of lifestyle modification to reduce your risk of disease, I also appreciate the power of testing. Here are the top tests for heart attack prevention that could save your life.
As defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, stress testing involves exercising to the point where your heart is beating hard and fast so tests can measure your cardiac health. The test is often used to detect coronary heart disease, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to your heart. Among other things, this buildup can cause blood clots that block blood flow through an artery, leading to angina (chest pain) or a heart attack. Sometimes people with coronary heart disease don’t have symptoms when they’re at rest, so forcing the heart to work hard is a good way to check for problems.
CT calcium scan
A stress test may not be able to detect atherosclerotic plaque, a combination of calcium, cholesterol and scar tissue. As cardiologist and The South Beach Diet author Arthur Agatston, MD, told Everyday Health, these soft plaques can act like “ticking time bombs” that can explode without warning, causing heart attacks and sudden death. But when these plaque explosions don’t lead to heart attacks, they form a scar that eventually becomes calcified. A CT calcium scan can detect this calcified plaque, which is a warning sign of coronary artery disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 33% of American adults have high LDL cholesterol, and only 1 in 3 of these people have the problem under control—possibly in part because high cholesterol has no symptoms. While lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising can help keep your cholesterol in check, it’s important to know your levels. A lipid panel, or cholesterol test, measures the fats in your blood. This test usually consists of several different measurements:
- total cholesterol, or the sum of cholesterol in your body
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” kind that can lead to clogged arteries
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that helps carry away LDL cholesterol
- triglycerides, high levels of which can increase your risk of heart disease
An advanced lipid panel is the better test for cholesterol, as discussed in my last blog posting, because it includes particle number and Lp(a) in addition to the regular numbers listed above.
Your doctor may want you to fast before your lipid panel, meaning you can’t eat or drink anything (other than water) for 9-12 hours before having your blood drawn. Make sure to follow any instructions you receive before your test.
C-reactive protein test
Since a correlation between lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and reducing your risk of a heart attack has been well established, many people rely on cholesterol checks to tell them if they have a problem. Unfortunately, as the experts at Harvard Health point out, research shows only around half of people who experience heart attacks have high LDL cholesterol. Considering this less-than-reassuring statistic, they and others recommend a C-reactive protein (CRP) test. CRP is a protein that plays a role in your body’s inflammatory response, and research suggests a link between high CRP levels and heart attack chances. In one 2002 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, C-reactive protein tests proved more effective than LDL cholesterol testing at predicting cardiovascular risk.
Body mass index (BMI)
The American Heart Association says being obese increases your risk of cardiovascular problems like heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. A recent study found even “metabolically healthy obese” people without high blood pressure or other illness symptoms have a much greater risk of developing heart disease than peers of normal weight. By looking at your BMI, a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height, you and your doctor can get an idea of what steps you may need to take to get to or maintain a heart-healthy weight. Some experts feel BMI is too basic a measurement—the Mayo Clinic recently told Fortune it prefers the body volume indicator (BVI), which takes factors like lean and fat mass into consideration—your doctor may want to pursue more in-depth methods of measuring your body.