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A heart health screening is an unheard of concept for many. Generally, we only get our heart checked after we reach a certain age or have a family history. However, with the increasing incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, according to the AHA, there are certain heart health screening tests that should begin as early as age 20; especially for Indians, as the Indian Heart Association states that heart disease strikes Indians at an earlier age than other demographic groups, often without warning. Therefore, we must work together with our doctors to better understand what tests should be done and how often.

Routine heart examinations do not involve complex tests. To monitor your heart health, you should regularly check the following:

• Weight and body mass index (annually)

• Blood pressure (every 2 years, starting at age 20)

• Blood tests to check cholesterol and blood sugar levels (Once every 2 years, starting at age 20)

• Check your diet (if it lacks essential vitamins or is over-consumption that can lead to high sugar levels), physical activity and smoking history

• Personal and family medical history

• Any sudden changes in health

You may be advised to have earlier or more frequent screening if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or blood sugar, heart disease, a family history of heart disease, obesity, prediabetes or diabetes, or had complications during pregnancy such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. If you’ve recently seen any markers that indicate heart disease, or if your doctors think you may have it, routine heart health screenings can be important for prevention. You will likely be advised to have additional screening tests regularly.

Additional heart studies

The following tests can better assess your heart health:

Electrocardiography (ECG, EKG): The chest is connected using tiny adhesive electrodes that connect to the EKG. This device records the electrical activity of your heart and reports the rhythm and rate of the beat. An EKG can reveal irregular heart rhythms or abnormal electrical patterns, such as a prolonged QT interval, that increase the risk of sudden cardiac death

Cardiac stress test with physical activity: The chest is covered with electrodes, an ECG is connected to it. Then, as the practitioner assesses the heart’s response to exercise, patients are asked to walk, run or pedal a bicycle.

Echocardiography: An ultrasound machine is used by a medical practitioner to take moving images of your heart to examine your heart valves and determine if you have problems with your heart’s ability to pump blood. They may occasionally do this before and after exercise or take certain medications to determine how the heart responds to stress.

Nuclear stress test: In this test, a small amount of radioactive dye is injected into the blood, which is then sent to the heart. To determine how blood flows through the heart at rest and after activity, the practitioner will use an imaging device to take pictures of the patient.

CT scan of the heart to determine calcium: Placed under a CT scanner with electrodes attached to the chest to record the heart’s electrical activity. A medical examiner uses a CT scanner to take images of your heart and examine your coronary arteries for plaque.

Coronary CT angiography (CTA): In a procedure similar to the one described above, you lie under a CT scanner with electrodes attached to your chest so the doctor can monitor your heartbeat and create images of your heart from CT images. They inject a contrast dye into your bloodstream to more clearly reveal plaque buildup in your coronary arteries.

Coronary catheter angiography: A tiny catheter is inserted through an artery in the arm or groin into the heart. The doctor will inject a contrast dye through the catheter as they take X-rays of your heart to see if the coronary arteries are blocked or restricted.

Your doctor may suggest dietary adjustments, medications, or other treatments if you are diagnosed with heart disease.

By Cardiologist, Desun Hospital, Kolkata

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