Peace of Mind for Your Heart

Peace of Mind for Your Heart

Sometimes, the first signs of heart trouble are chest pain and shortness of breath. Sometimes, the first sign is a life-threatening heart attack or even sudden death. You've heard of people who are seemingly at the peak of life, relatively young, and fit, who are suddenly rushed to an emergency procedure such as heart bypass surgery.

What Can You Do for Peace of Mind?
Here are three steps you can take—and chances are you need not go beyond the first one:

1. Find out about your risk. 

Cholesterol levels by themselves say very little. If you do not know your blood pressure or blood test values, call your doctor's office.

You should get to know these values and what they mean.

If you experience symptoms of heart trouble or if you are concerned that you may have heart disease, see your doctor right away.

Symptoms of Heart Trouble
Go to the hospital right away if you have:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort or pain in the upper body
  • Cold sweats, nausea, or light-headedness

2. If you are at elevated risk, consider talking to your doctor about screening options that are appropriate for your pattern of risk factors, including tests of blood lipids that predict heart disease and non-invasive cardiac imaging.

Recent research has given your doctor new tools to accurately determine what, if any, further diagnostic tests or treatments you might need. For example, traditional screening and diagnostic tests are complemented by new blood test measures such as Lp(a) lipoprotein, C-reactive protein, and plasma homocysteine. Even more on the cutting edge of science are two tests that can be quite predictive: apoB/apoA1 ratio; and Lp PLA2. Calcium deposits in coronary arteries can now be visualized with noninvasive tests. Results from these tests can help determine what preventive measures or treatments would be best for you or if any further diagnostic tests are needed.

3. If the results from the above tests suggest that you may have heart disease, your doctor may suggest that you undergo further testing such as a thallium stress test or cardiac catheterization to determine the extent of the disease.

The Good News
The good news is that coronary heart disease can be treated, and heart attacks can be prevented. There now are appropriate diagnostic measures and interventions to move you toward lower risk no matter what the stage of development. You have it in your power to avoid joining the roughly 300,000 people who suffer heart attacks each year before they have a chance to get a diagnosis. But it's up to you to take the first step. (Get started right now with these healthy lifestyle habits that may help prevent a heart attack.)

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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