Cardiovascular health is important for everyone, as heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. There are specific tests that can be performed to understand your risk.
1. Blood tests
All adults regardless of age should have blood tests performed regularly, including a lipid panel, which checks your cholesterol levels. For those with a family history of diabetes, a hemoglobin A1C may be helpful to understand your risk of diabetes as there is a link between diabetes and heart disease.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound where moving pictures of your heart are taken to look at your heart muscle function and valves, and check for fluid around the heart. It is helpful to evaluate heart function if you have an abnormal ECG or any signs or symptoms of heart trouble such as chest pain, shortness of breath or irregular heartbeat. If your health care provider notes a heart murmur on a physical exam, an echocardiogram is warranted to evaluate for both valvular disease and heart function. Many murmurs are benign. However, some are signs of heart trouble.
3. Coronary artery calcium score
For men 40 and older and women 50 and older, the coronary artery calcium score could be very beneficial. Different from the blood test, this test is a low dose radiation CT scan of the arteries of the heart aimed at understanding the amount of hardened plaque, or calcium, is present.
Depending on your score, you can understand what your risk is of having significant blockages of the arteries of the heart that can lead to heart attack. A score of less than 100 would be considered a mild plaque burden, 100-400 moderate plaque burden, and greater than 400 extensive plaque burden. The calcium score can determine the need for medical therapy and further cardiovascular testing, such as stress testing or even cardiac catheterization.