Screening for and Prevention of Heart disease

Even if you do not have any symptoms of cardiovascular disease, you could be at risk of developing cardiac problems in the future. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in western nations, including Australia, and much can be done to reduce the risks.

While it is true that a significant percentage of coronary heart disease is genetically influenced, a large percentage of heart attacks are preventable, and are due to lifestyle factors and the influence known risk factors, many of which can be modified, treated or controlled.  Changing these lifestyle and risk factors has been shown to increase the chances of preventing heart disease.

Major Risk Factors That Can’t Be Changed

  • Increasing Age: About 80 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
  • Male Sex (Gender): Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life.
  • Heredity (Including Race): Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.

Major Risk Factors That Can Be Modified, Treated or Controlled

  • Smoking: Smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2-4 times that of nonsmokers.
  • High Blood Cholesterol: As LDL rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease.
  • High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the arteries to thicken and become stiffer.
  • Physical Inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
  • Obesity and Overweight: People who have excess body fat — especially at the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The best way to find out which risk factors you have, and detect early signs of heart disease, is through regular doctor visits, and appropriate screening tests. This will allow treatments and interventions, including lifestyle modification and, if necessary, medication, to avoid the development of cardiovascular disease in the future.

Most regular cardiovascular screening tests should begin at age 20. The frequency of follow up will depend on your level of risk.

Here are the key screening tests recommended for heart disease prevention:

Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors to screen for, because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so it can’t be detected without being measured. High blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, be sure to get it checked at least once every two years, starting at age 20. If your blood pressure is higher, your doctor may want to check it more often. High blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication.

Fasting Lipid Profile (cholesterol and triglycerides)
You should have a fasting lipoprotein profile taken every four to six years, starting at age 20. This is a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides. Like high blood pressure, often cholesterol and triglycerides can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication.

Body Weight
Starting around 20 years old, your healthcare provider may ask for your waist circumference or use your body weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI) during your routine visit. These measurements may tell you and your physician whether you’re at a healthy body weight and composition. About two of every three adults are now overweight or obese. Being obese puts you at higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more.

Blood Glucose
Starting at age 45, you should have your blood glucose level checked at least every three years. High blood glucose levels put you at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke.

You can help to decrease and delay your risk of developing heart disease in the future, and increase your life expectancy, by modifying your lifestyle. Even if you have already developed heart disease, vascular disease or stroke, following the advice below will decrease your chances of having a repeat cardiac or vascular event.

Decrease your calorie intake and/or change your diet composition. Lose weight, if you are overweight. Don’t smoke, or quit smoking. Do not consume salty foods. Undertake moderate physical activity at least 1 hour per day. Seek help form your GP for Stress and depression management .

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