It’s the case with most major health issues – the earlier you detect it, the better. Especially when it comes to the number one killer, cardiovascular disease.
Each year, more than a million Americans suffer a heart attack, about half occurring outside a hospital, suggesting at least some of them didn’t pick up any early warning signs.
“Sometimes we meet people first in the emergency room once they have a heart attack. Obviously that's not the way you would like to meet people,” says Dr. Vladimir Ilic, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
While many of us are familiar with common risk factors including family history, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking, there are a few less common tests that may offer a hint that something is wrong with your heart.
“On occasion we’re going to use some of those measurements, and some other types of tests as well, to try to estimate the risk of cardiovascular event,” says Dr. Ilic.
First up is testing your calcium score. A simple CT scan can show the amount of calcium build up in the arteries.
“When you see some calcium that's already a marker of plaque formation. It’s very unusual to have calcium for some other reason,” says Dr. Ilic.
Another screening is the advanced lipid testing. It measures the concentraion of bad cholesterol in your blood.
“Not all the cholesterols are the same. We frequently use subsets of lipid profile which makes your cholesterol profile, which is a little bit more in depth,” says Dr. Ilic.
The final test: the carotid intimal medial thickness test. It’s a 15-minute ultrasound that allows doctors to see thickening in the neck arteries that lead to the brain.
“The lining inside your artery, which we can easily see, we can measure and if that lining starts to be thickened, this is kind of subtle sign that you start to have building up of plaque in your arteries. You should do something about it,” says Dr. Ilic.These tests are not standard but are additional tools doctors may use if they have concerns about your health.