The DIY Test for Plaque in Your Heart



    Is plaque in your arteries blocking blood flow in your body?

    This is an important question because this is the biggest killer in the United States.

    It seems to be that plaque might be the biggest cause of stroke which causes more long-term disability than any other cause.

    And high blood plaque has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Yet, if you ask your doctor, do I have high plaque, most of the time you can’t get a straight answer.

    The most common test for plaque in the arteries is usually a stress test, but the results are usually inconclusive.  Remember Tim Russert had a good stress test two days before he died of a heart attack.

    Other tests are:

    • Calcium CT heart scans which will give you a good indication of the amount of calcium that has built up in your heart. But it also uses radiation which means you can’t use this on a regular basis.
    • CIMT’s (carotid intima-media thickness test) is a great indicator of the amount of plaque in your system by measuring your carotid arteries using ultrasound. But this is not done everywhere, and it can be a challenge to find a provider.
    • Angiograms are a great test, but it involves putting a catheter in the artery in your groin and threading it up your body to your heart.

    But if you have your own blood pressure machine, you can do a simple test at no cost which will get you the same results at no cost.

    It is called the Ankle Brachial Index (ABI).  It involves taking your blood pressure at your ankle as well as your arm.  If the two numbers are the same, then you are fine.

    In order to do this, you need to lay down for five minutes (and don’t talk during this five minutes of getting settled in).

    Measure your arm blood pressure three times and average the numbers together.

    Then do the same at your ankle.  If you are using an automatic machine, you can do this fairly easily.

    Then get out your calculator…Ankle Blood Pressure/Arm Blood pressure.

    If the ratio is 1 to 1.4 you are fine.  There isn’t any sign of blockage.

    If it drops to .91-.99 then you are at risk and anything below .9 you have serious blockage.

    If you notice that you are losing hair on your legs or have sores that won’t heal on your legs, then you have blockages in arteries that are keeping your legs from getting the oxygen it needs.

    If your score is above 1.4 then this test isn’t for you because your arteries have become too hardened for this test too work effectively.

    This is just a screening test, but it’s an effective one.

    Make sure you have a blood pressure cuff big enough.  If the bladder does not cover more than 75% of your ankle it’s too small.

    If you really need another reason to give up smoking or make other lifestyle changes, this may provide you with the motivation to finally do that New Year’s resolution.