In a city of trends, many New Yorkers are on the fitness and healthy eating bandwagon already. For overall health and wellness, there are few other mandatory steps than the routine exercise and a healthy diet many of us are already following. But, if you’re unknowingly harboring early signs of heart disease, these may not be enough.
Detecting a silent killer
“Coronary artery disease, or heart disease, is the leading ‘silent killer’ for Americans, as half of all men and women who suffer heart attacks and sudden death have no signs or symptoms,” explains Jacqueline Tamis-Holland, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals. But there is good news because a simple heart screening could mean the difference between being surprised by heart disease and getting one step ahead of it.
Through incredible technological advancements, the multi-slice CT (computed tomography) scan provides a great image of the coronary artery while exposing patients to minimal radiation. “Heart disease screenings should be viewed with the same importance as mammograms and colonoscopy — they are all life-saving tests that allow us to see disease,” Dr. Tamis-Holland says. “In the case of coronary artery disease, a CT scan can detect the presence of plaque accumulating in the coronary arteries. In its simplest form this test can give you a calcium score that has proven to equate with your risk and a full CT scan can quantify the amount of plaque in the arteries.”
Understanding your risks
These heart screenings can with todays latest technology be done with extremely low amounts of radiation and stratify your risk to low, high or very high so you can focus on preventive measures. “A low-risk score might mean you need to lose 30 pounds and quit smoking, whereas a high-risk score could mean losing those 30 pounds and quitting smoking in addition to eating healthy, exercising, and going on cholesterol-lowering statins and Aspirin,” explains Dr. Tamis-Holland.
Knowing your health fundamentals, especially as you age, is important so that you have a baseline to work from. See your doctor to address your health fundamentals: weight, diet, smoking and blood pressure. Get your cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked routinely and if you have diabetes, keep it in check to reduce your risk for heart disease.
Putting knowledge to use
A full cardiac risk assessment, a tool to help you identify and reduce your risk of developing heart disease and having a heart attack, can be found on the American Heart Association website. The assessment includes a close look at improving these controllable risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
According to Dr. Tamis-Holland, heart screenings are often inexpensive, totally noninvasive and don’t take a lot of time. “When you go through the steps of a risk assessment, you’re better able to manage your risk for disease,” he says.
To learn more about your risk for coronary heart disease and the CT scan that could help save your life, find a cardiologist who can make the right diagnosis. Call 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visit cphnyc.org.