Early Detection is Key to Addressing Heart Disease
Most of the time, heart disease develops slowly. Diseases
of the heart and blood vessels are called silent killers. You often don’t feel
any symptoms for quite a long time. You may feel perfectly healthy.
Heart problems often occur when the inner walls of the
arteries slowly and gradually become clogged with cholesterol. The arteries
supply the heart with blood. When they’re blocked, less and less blood makes it
way to the heart. Blood clots can form, and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Possible early signs that heart disease is present
In the early stages of heart disease, you might experience
the following symptoms, and not link them to heart disease in your mind;
- Indigestion or a “gassy” feeling
- Tiring easily
- Breathlessness after activities
- Difficulty breathing when lying flat
- Swelling of the ankles
Standard risk factors for heart disease include
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Having an inactive lifestyle
- Being a man older than 45
- Being a woman older than 55
- Having a father or brother diagnosed with heart disease
- Having a mother or sister diagnosed with heart disease
before age 65
Detecting heart disease before symptoms begin
If you want to know whether heart disease is present even
though you’re feeling fine, you need to take an active role in this with your
doctor. You’ll never know what’s going on if you don’t see your doctor regularly
to talk about what your risk factors are, what your family history is and what
your current numbers are, such as blood cholesterol (both HDL and LDL, the
healthy and non-healthy types) and blood pressure.
Sometimes, having concrete information that heart disease
has begun is enough to make you want to change your lifestyle. It’s one thing to
know that you could be one of the millions of Americans who develops heart
disease; it’s quite another to find out that heart disease is actually in its
If you change your diet, develop a more active lifestyle
and take medications your doctor recommends, there’s an excellent chance that
you’ll be able to stop the progression of heart disease and, in some cases, even
reverse what’s already occurred.
Your doctor can help determine when it’s appropriate for
you to have further testing. For example, a CT scan that can detect buildup of
cholesterol in the arteries may be something you should have if you have a
family history of early heart disease or high cholesterol.
Ongoing research will provide more ways to predict heart
Research into new ways to predict heart disease early is
ongoing. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is currently conducting a
study to find heart disease before it produces symptoms. Participants are
Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and Asian. None of the participants has
known heart disease.
Researchers are studying participants over a 10-year period
to find out which factors best predict heart disease in men and women and in
each of the ethnic groups. The study collects information about the standard
risk factors for heart disease as well as other factors, such as
sociodemographic, lifestyle and psychosocial issues.
As researchers learn more about what causes heart disease
to develop in specific individuals, it’s likely that more heart disease will be
prevented. For now, medical professionals can already offer many ways to detect
and treat heart disease early. It’s up to you to do your part and find out what
your own health status is.
The American Heart
Association; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.