Prevention is always better than cure or medical intervention, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Experts point out that periodic heart examination based on existing risk factors is essential for charting out lifestyle, dietary and medical alterations to effectively manage heart health and avoid unforeseen complications including heart attacks.
Dr Sanjeev Gera, director and head, cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Noida, cautions that individuals with risk factors including family history, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking should opt for an annual cardiac examination and asymptomatic people should get this done once in three to five years.
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that cardiovascular diseases claim 17.9 million lives across the world every year. At least 85 per cent of these people, including those with no previous history or symptom of cardiac disorders succumb to asymptomatic heart attacks and strokes.
Happiest Health lists down some of the essential and basic heart screening tests that could be done to ensure better heart health.
Cholesterol tests (lipid profile)
Cholesterol levels are often considered the gateway to the territory of cardiovascular disorders. Dr Gera advises that maintaining healthy levels of good cholesterol (HDL), bad cholesterol (LDL), remnant cholesterol (VLDL) and triglycerides are essential to keep the heart ticking. Cholesterol-laden lipids mainly from excess refined carbohydrates and an unsaturated fat-rich diet get converted into cholesterol and eventually end up as plaque deposits on the arterial walls leading to obstructed blood circulation and related complications including heart attacks.
The recommended cholesterol levels are:
- Total cholesterol – Less than 200 mg/dl
- LDL – Less than 100 mg/dl
- HDL – 30 to 60 mg/dl
- VLDL – 10 to 40 mg/dl
- Triglycerides – Less than 150
The five-minute blood test to get these readings might require overnight or eight hours of fasting as per the doctor’s recommendation.
ECG usually takes five to ten minutes. It doesn’t require any special preparation or fasting and is performed by attaching the sensors to the chest, arms and legs. It captures the electrical activity of the heart on the ECG machine. The electrical signals monitor heart functions and anomalies will be captured in the readings. Only trained medical personnel can interpret the ECG readings; so always get an ECG done as per your cardiologist’s recommendation. You might have to remove metal objects, keys, coins, ornaments and casings from your pockets while you check your ECG.
Echocardiogram, popularly known as ECHO, uses ultrasound to examine the heart. It is a safe and non-invasive technique and normally doesn’t take more than an hour. It helps diagnose conditions like congenital heart disease (birth defects affecting the usual heart function), cardiomyopathy (thickness in the heart walls), issues with heart valves that impact the blood flow within the heart and so on. High-frequency soundwaves are made to pass through the heart and they bounce off the heart valves. This is recorded to gauge whether there are any structural defects in the heart due to existing disorders or previous cardiac events like a heart attack.
Treadmill test (exercise ECG test)
Dr Bharath Kumar G, consultant, interventional cardiologist, Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Chennai, explains that in the treadmill test (TMT), the individual is subjected to walk on the treadmill and simultaneously their ECG is recorded. The heart rate and blood pressure variations during the entire test procedure are monitored and analysed to ensure whether there is any irregularity during the workout and resting phase. ECG and blood pressure will be recorded when the heart rate returns to normal once the exercise is over. It can take up to an hour. The test will be stopped whenever the individual starts feeling nauseous, out of breath or dizzy during the treadmill test.
It is a blood test that doesn’t require any specific preparation. Dr J Karthick Anjaneyan, consultant and interventional cardiologist, Gleneagles Global Health City, Chennai, tells Happiest Health that Lp (a) is more dangerous than LDL because of the presence of apolipoprotein compound in it, which forms cardiac blockages. He also adds that, more recently, Lp (a) levels are being constantly screened during cardiac health check-ups.
Coronary calcium scan
It is a computed tomography (CT) scan, through which images of the heart are taken to identify existing calcium deposits called calcifications in the coronary arteries. The presence of coronary calcium is predictive of future coronary events in both asymptomatic and symptomatic populations. This test is usually completed within 10 minutes.
Experts say that in people with diabetes if there is a creatinine increase along with a protein leakage in the urine, it is more likely that individuals might have heart disease. Dr H Sudarshan Ballal, renowned kidney transplant physician and nephrologist, chairman of Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, India told during the webinar hosted by Happiest Health that the kidney and the heart are terrible twins. Multiple organs including the heart and the vascular system are impacted by kidney dysfunction. There is no special preparation required for this blood test.
Blood sugar levels
Diabetes is a metabolic condition caused by impaired glucose metabolism that could also lead to vascular complications. It could directly impact the blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. Hence, it is important to monitor sugar levels by regularly testing fasting glucose levels, postprandial (after food) and HBA1c (three months average). HBA1c and fasting blood sugar levels require fasting for 10 to 12 hours. Postprandial must be checked after two hours of meal intake.
Heart health examination plays a major role in ensuring cardiac wellness. Timely heart examinations as per the recommendation of your cardiologist will help you monitor your heart health and show you whether lifestyle alteration or medical intervention is required to improve it. Managing heart health is always easy if basic screenings are done at the earliest, especially for those with underlying conditions like diabetes, obesity and hypertension.