One of the most important keys to preventing heart disease is to make sure that you’re managing the causes that increase your risk for the disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and body weight. But unless you’re monitoring factors like these on your own every day, you might not know when these risk factors become an issue, which is why it’s important to schedule regular health screenings and appointments with your doctor.
“Getting screened regularly for risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease is important because it can detect problems early, before they become a bigger issue,” explains Eric Gnall, DO, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center. “Heart disease is insidious, and catching it in its earlier stages allows time to alter its course.”
So how often should you be getting screened for heart disease risk factors? You might be surprised with the answer. Below, Dr. Gnall recommends how often you should be screened, and what your doctor will look be looking for during each one.
Cholesterol: Beginning at age 20, those at normal risk for high cholesterol should get their first screening and return every five years for follow-up screenings. This test will evaluate your ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or your physician has requested otherwise, you may need to have your cholesterol screened more frequently, such as once every year or two years.
Blood Pressure: High blood pressure has no signs or symptoms, so knowing you have it without a screening is impossible. Typically, your blood pressure is checked during every visit to your doctor, but if you’re not regularly making appointments, you might not have an accurate reflection of what it is. Starting at age 20, be sure to make an appointment at least once every two years to have your blood pressure checked.
Blood Glucose Test: Blood glucose tests measure the level of sugar in your blood, and is one of the biggest contributors to Type 2 diabetes, which affects millions of Americans every year and lead to heart disease or stroke. Starting at age 45, schedule blood glucose tests at least every three years to monitor your levels. If you are overweight or have other risk factors, your doctor may recommend blood glucose tests at an earlier age.
Body Weight: Unlike other risk factors, your weight is easier to control and be aware of. During each doctor’s visit, your weight is recorded, but you should also ask for your body mass index (BMI) number and waist measurement, which will help you and your doctor know if your weight is healthy for you. These measurements should begin at age 20.
Regular heart health screenings are important, and making sure you’re visiting your doctor every couple of years to get them can save your life and help reverse problems before they become more serious. Still, the best way to ensure that your heart and overall health are in the best shape is to schedule an annual visit to your doctor, whether you’re due for a screening or not.
When was the last time you had a review of your heart health? Register for one of our upcoming heart and stroke screenings for a personal evaluation and comprehensive overview of your circulation and vascular health.
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