Testing can reveal your risk factors for heart disease


As we close out Heart Health Month, it's important to continue focusing on strengthening your heart every day. Even someone who is the picture of health, eats right and exercises daily is not completely free from the risk of a heart attack.

Often genetics or other underlying factors contribute to heart disease. The best we can do is take steps to minimize the risk and be strong enough to recover should it ever happen.

It's no secret that physical activity is good for the heart. Many studies show that people who regularly exercise are much less likely to develop or die from cardiac disease than people who are sedentary. Exercise is known to improve blood pressure, pulse rate and cholesterol profiles, all of which are associated with better cardiac health.

Even at a cellular level, exercise improves heart health. Cells can age at different rates, depending on your lifestyle. Individuals who lead an active lifestyle have younger cells than those who are sedentary.

Physicians encourage patients to pay attention to signals of heart disease which are often ignored. Metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of abnormalities that greatly magnifies the threat of heart disease, stroke or diabetes, affects more than 50 million Americans. However, because the syndrome's cluster of disorders frequently don't spark any obvious symptoms, it's easy for people to go undiagnosed, especially if they don't get regular physicals.

Another risk factor is insulin resistance, which affects about 150 million Americans and is the leading cause of vascular blockages and of chronic inflammation in arteries that initiates cardiovascular events. It's possible to have normal blood sugars and still have insulin resistance, so make sure your doctor administers the oral glucose tolerance test to be sure you are being most effectively evaluated.

Plaque in the arteries can cause a healthy 40-something to have the arteries of someone two or three decades older. One very effective imaging test for finding out if you have plaque in your arteries is the Carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) test, which directly examines the arterial wall. It is a noninvasive and painless procedure that can tell you how old your arteries are.

While family history is important, it is not as effective as genetic testing for heart attack risk. More than 50 percent of Americans carry one or more gene variants that increase risk for heart attacks. Talk to your physician about proper tests and screenings to know more about your personal heart health.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.