Are you concerned about your heart health? Find out how to reduce your risks and whether a coronary heart scan might improve your health.
Heart disease is very common among American adults, but most people still don't know whether they're at risk for developing it. In fact, one Cleveland Clinic survey found that 45 percent of women aren't even aware of the risk factors. Fortunately, knowing and managing your scores for cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index can help you prevent heart disease.
How to Reduce Your Risk for Heart Disease
Although heart disease kills more than 600,000 people every year in the United States, it's largely preventable through simple lifestyle modifications. Some risk factors you can't control—family history of heart disease, male gender, increasing age and race (risk is higher in African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans)—so it's important to focus on the ones you can.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight can all increase your risk of heart disease, but there are plenty of ways to manage and prevent these conditions.
Limit Alcoholic Intake
Drinking alcohol can not only raise your blood pressure, it can also add extra calories to your diet—and potentially extra inches to your waistline. Experts recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men.
Exercising for at least thirty minutes most days of the week can help you feel better and look better. Regular exercise helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level and may also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Eliminating unhealthy staples from your diet—namely foods high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar—while adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help improve overall health.
Smoking can raise your blood pressure, which puts you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Your chances of quitting improve with more support, and you can visit Rite Aid's Quit Smoking Solution Center to get help.
Can a Coronary Calcium Scan Help Reduce Your Risk?
Another risk factor for heart disease is calcium in your arteries. A coronary calcium scan, also called a coronary artery calcium scan and a coronary heart scan, measures the amount of calcium-containing plaques in your arteries. Calcium is a key ingredient in plaque, and if plaque builds up and hardens in your arteries, it can restrict or block oxygenated blood flow to your heart. Blocked blood flow may cause chest pain, called angina, and if plaque breaks apart in an artery, it can form a blood clot, potentially causing a heart attack or stroke.
If you're worried that the calcium-rich foods you eat to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis will have a negative effect on your heart health, you can rest easy. According to Harvard Medical School, there is no evidence that dietary calcium negatively impacts your heart.
Not everyone needs a coronary calcium scan. If you already know you have a high risk of developing heart disease, this procedure won't tell you anything new. Also, if you don't have any risks or symptoms, this procedure is not necessary.
Certain factors, including high cholesterol and being over age 40, put an individual at moderate risk of developing heart disease, and a coronary calcium scan can benefit these people. The test can be particularly helpful if you have no symptoms but do have a few risks.
During the fifteen- to thirty-minute coronary calcium scan procedure, your doctor will use a computed tomography (CT) scanner to create an image of your arteries that can be used to determine the quantity of calcium-containing plaque. That quantity is known as your Agatston score—the lower the number, the better the score.
Based on your coronary calcium scan score, your doctor may prescribe medications, recommend changes to your diet and exercise routine, or order more tests to get a complete picture of your heart. Understanding your degree of risk can help both you and your doctor make good choices to improve your health.
Although heart disease is a serious problem that affects many Americans, it doesn't have to affect you. By adopting healthy habits and maintaining your knowledge of the risks and symptoms, you can help to prevent heart disease.
By Joelle Klein
Mayo Clinic, Heart Scan
American College of Cardiology, Heart Disease: Should I Have a Coronary Calcium Scan?
American College of Cardiology, Heart Disease Statistics
American Heart Association, Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack
American Heart Association, Angina
Harvard Medical School, Calcium and Heart Disease: What is the Connection?
American Heart Association, Smoking, High Blood Pressure and Your Health
American Heart Association, Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure
American Heart Association, Getting Active to Control High Blood Pressure