Definition and Overview
Cardiovascular screening visit is a medical consultation that involves undergoing different exams to measure or assess heart health and the risk factors associated with heart-related diseases.
As one of the most important parts of the body, the heart is responsible not only for pumping blood but also for delivering the much-needed nutrients and oxygen to various organs and tissues.
The heart, just like other organs, is not immune to various medical conditions. The blood vessels and the valves can become narrow due to plaque buildup. The muscles can become rigid, stiff, or scarred forcing the heart to pump harder. Due to the crucial role it plays, a problem to the heart can turn to something serious or life threatening.
Currently, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world with more than 17 million deaths annually. The American Heart Association (AHA) believes that if the trend continues or worsens, the death toll may increase to around 23 million people per year in 2030. In the United States, at least one person dies every 40 seconds because of the disease.
The screening tests are intended to significantly reduce the death rate by detecting the symptoms before they appear or get worse.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
People who exhibit significant risk factors are ideal candidates for cardiovascular screening visits. AHA classifies these risks as modifiable or non-modifiable. The non-modifiable risks are age, gender, and genetics. Modifiable factors, on the other hand, include:
- Levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, and lipids
- Blood sugar (glucose) levels
- Blood pressure
- Weight and body mass index (BMI)
- Physical activity
- Habits such as smoking
- Diet and nutrition
With these factors in mind, the following are considered high risk:
- Obese or overweight – These refer to individuals with higher-than-normal waist circumference, hip-waist ratio, and BMI
- People who smoke or under chronic stress
- Those with poor diet
- Individuals with high cholesterol and glucose
- Those diagnosed with diabetes, kidney disease, or hypertension (high blood pressure)
- ave had stroke before
- Those who are 65 years old and older
- People with family history of cardiovascular disease
- Physical inactivity (sedentary lifestyle)
- Lack of exercise
Those who are starting to show certain signs and symptoms such as chest pain with breathing difficulty may also need to undergo cardiovascular screening, provided these are not related to a heart attack (myocardial infarction), which is an emergency.
The cardiovascular screening tests offer the following benefits:
- Early diagnosis of cardiovascular disease
- Monitoring of a person’s overall health
- Educating or counseling patients for more effective management and treatment of risks
- Identification of better treatment and management options
- Encouraging stronger patient participation in ensuring his or her cardiovascular health
How Does the Procedure Work?
Although heart conditions are treated and managed by cardiovascular specialists, the screening may be performed by other types of doctors. For example, a general practitioner may request for glucose, cholesterol, and lipid tests as part of the patient’s routine physical exam. Older patients may be seen by a geriatric expert while those who are obese may consult nutrition, diet, or weight loss experts. Some of the tests may be performed by certain professionals like a radiologist or a technician. However, all of the above mentioned medical professionals may work together to get a better idea of the patient’s cardiovascular health.
Prior to the screening, the patient should be informed of the necessary preparations, which may include fasting, stopping certain medications, or wearing of loose clothing. Those who are anxious may be advised to bring a friend or a family member along.
The tests may be non-invasive such as most imaging tests or minimally invasive like a finger prick that is necessary for blood tests. Depending on how many exams are necessary, the patient may stay in a hospital overnight.
AHA recommends the following screening tests:
- Blood pressure – Once every one to two years.
- eight or BMI – Once a year
- Cholesterol – Once every 4 to 6 years
- Blood glucose test – Once every three years
- Other risk factors - Every annual physical exam.
Except for blood sugar test, which may be obtained when the patient is around 45 years old, all other screenings are ideal for 20 years old and older particularly those who have the risk factors listed above.
Based on the results of the screening, the patient may be referred to a cardiovascular specialist, who then helps the patient treat or manage the symptoms or the illness, suggest guidelines to reduce or limit the risks, and assist the patient in coping with the condition or symptoms.
Possible Risks and Complications
A screening test is only a recommendation, which means people have the option to either undergo such tests or not. This becomes a problem when high-risk individuals opt to avoid them.
- What is a cardiovascular disease? American Heart Association Web site. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-DiseaseUCM301852_Article.jsp. Updated December 28, 2011. Accessed April 9, 2014.