Legacy Heart Center: New Screening Tests Can Detect Heart Problems Before They Are Life-Threatening -- Heart Month Good Time for Those 40+ to Determine Their Risk

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New screening tests that were largely unavailable five years ago, can quickly and painlessly detect potential heart problems well before they become life-threatening, according to Legacy Heart Center managing partner Marc S. Shalek, M.D.

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People should keep in mind that nearly half of all heart attacks occur before the age of 65 and more than a third of all Americans who have a heart attack show no symptoms beforehand

    "And with this month being Heart Month, it's a good time for forty-something men and women to call their doctors and schedule a heart health check-up," he noted.

According to statistics from the American Heart Association, although heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for Americans (with stroke coming in third), the trend lines for both diseases are heading down.

Dr. Shalek attributes the decline to early detection and treatment and notes that two new tests are particularly effective in catching cardiovascular problems early, before damage is done.

One is called the CIMT or carotid intima media thickness test. A CIMT uses an ultrasound scan of the carotid arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain to measure the thickness of the various layers in the blood vessel and the build up of plaque.

"It actually provides an analysis of the 'age' of your arteries and reliably correlates with the risk of future strokes and heart attacks. By measuring the thickness of the first two layers of the carotid artery, we can get a good idea of a patient's risk for cardiovascular disease," he noted.

The other test is a coronary calcium scoring test, which uses the new super-fast CT scanners to measure the calcium build-up in your coronary arteries.

"Studies have shown that coronary calcium scores directly correlate with the risk of heart attack, even if your other risk factors--family history, age, cholesterol levels, diabetes, smoking and obesity--are low," said Dr. Shalek.

"Although calcium doesn't cause a heart attack, even in otherwise healthy people a higher coronary calcium score signals that plaque is present and atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries has begun. Left untreated, the arteries will gradually narrow, restricting the flow of blood and increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke."

Cardiologists recommend that men over 40 and women over 45 who have two or more risk factors undergo the tests. Risk factors include high cholesterol, high triglycerides, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, being overweight or a having a history of heart disease in the family.

"People should keep in mind that nearly half of all heart attacks occur before the age of 65 and more than a third of all Americans who have a heart attack show no symptoms beforehand," Dr. Shalek said. "On the other hand, the American Heart Association says that some 85 percent of sudden heart attacks could be prevented if the conditions that led to the attack are diagnosed early enough to prescribe treatment."

For more information, visit http://www.legacyheartcenter.com.

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