By Kennedy Shelley
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the US, but how do you know if you are at risk?
The first symptom many people have that they have heart issues is when they die of a sudden heart attack.
There were no warning signs, they just suddenly had what is called a widowmaker heart attack when the arteries in the left side of the heart burst or a plaque blocks them and the patient dies.
Are there ways of knowing if you are at risk of having a widow maker and taking steps to prevent it?
Well, thankfully there are some tests that can help you assess your risk. Nothing is perfect, but some are better than others.
Let’s go from worst to best tests:
There was a study in Framingham Mass. that followed thousands of people, looking at blood pressure, weight and basic blood work. This gives you a statistical average based on their longevity and cause of death.
You put in your numbers in a calculator such as this one and it gives you some numbers to assess your risk of dying of a heart attack.
The problem with this is that it is just a general average and doesn’t really tell you if YOU are at risk.
Ankle-Brachial Pressure Index
This is a cheap test you might be able to do at home if you have your own blood pressure machine.
The idea is that you test the pressure in your arm and the pressure at your ankle. If they are the same, then you don’t have any plaque blockages in your arteries restricting blood flow and that’s a good thing.
If there is a difference then you know something is blocking the blood going to your heart.
To learn how to do this simple test at home see this article in Freedom Health News.
Carotid Doppler Ultrasound
Nearly 25% of your blood goes to your brain. That means the carotid arteries are major blood pathways. Unfortunately, you can’t check the blood pressure there without cutting off blood flow to your head, so scientists have found other ways to check.
A doppler doesn’t use any radiation, it uses sound to check blood flow.
While this is a basic screening tool to make sure the flow of blood is adequate it doesn’t give you a good picture as to how narrow the arteries are, or if there are any plaques that might break off and cause a stroke.
You might have heard of a treadmill test. They hook you up to a bunch of wires and you walk or run on a treadmill to get your heart rate up.
The doctors then look to see how the heart responds to stress to see if it is functioning correctly.
The problem is that this test is wrong 50% of the time. It gives half the people who take it false positives, which requires even more expensive testing.
Or in the case of Tim Russert, a false negative. He passed his stress test just a few months before he died of a major heart attack in his 50s.
Calcium Heart Scan
This test will do a detailed scan of the heart using a CT scanner and it finds any calcium in the arteries in the heart muscle.
The score you get shows just how much at risk you are. If you don’t have any then your chances are very low, but the more you have the more at risk you are.
The problem with this test is it doesn’t differentiate between hot and cold plaques.
A hot plaque is like a pimple in the artery wall, if it breaks out it forms a clot that might block an artery.
Cold plaques are not good, but they are stable and won’t kill you.
This is an effective screening tool for many because people who often look very healthy but eat a high carbohydrate diet might have very high amounts of inflammation which can create these plaques.
Knowing your Calcium score might be the first warning sign that you have a problem.
These tests are often very cheap (under $100) and take just a few minutes. It may be the first warning sign you get that you are at risk.
The most effective way to check the health of your arteries is by getting a CIMT. This checks the thickness of your carotid artery health, can see plaques in the arteries and can tell you if they are hot or cold.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies don’t cover these, and it is difficult to find a company that does the test.
But more and more cardiologists are beginning to realize this test is the new gold standard for really finding out if you at serious risk of dying of a sudden heart attack.
Most people who die of heart attack had no pain, and no warning it was coming. Of those who had heart attacks, 1/3 had normal cholesterol, 1/3 had high and 1/3 had low. So knowing that number won’t tell you much of anything.
But these screening tests may be your best chances of seeing if you are at risk.