How often do you hear that someone you know has a heart problem or a disease? Well, many times, right? One of the most dreaded health problems today is cardiovascular disease or more popularly called heart disease or problem. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the one the prime causes of mortality globally, including India. Caused by the disorders of the heart and blood vessels, cardiovascular diseases are also a result of physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and consumption of tobacco, excessive alcohol, etc. Cardiovascular diseases have taken a sharp rise in the country in the past years and have affected people at an alarming rate. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), cardiovascular diseases are the prime cause of death globally. Each year more than 17.9 million people in the world die because of CVDs.

In this article, we understand what are cardiovascular diseases, and how can regular heart check-ups help prevent the rising burden of these diseases.

What are cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases or more commonly known as heart diseases refer to different conditions of the heart. This umbrella term encompasses issues that affect the heart like:

  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Blood vessel issues such as coronary artery disease and peripheral disease

Most of these cardiovascular diseases are caused because of interference in the normal functioning of the heart. The build-up of plaque, blood clots, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, etc. is all contributors to heart issues. 

How common are cardiovascular diseases?

India and across the globe, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of deaths across all age groups. According to WHO, 31% of all deaths worldwide occur because of cardiovascular diseases. That said, four out of every five CVD death is because of heart attack or stroke. And one-third of these deaths happen in people below 70 years of age. 

While the figures are shocking, it is possible to prevent the increasing burden of cardiovascular diseases by following a healthy lifestyle and diet. Most importantly, regular heart check-ups play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular diseases among people of all ages. It is advisable to start preventive diagnostic health check-ups by the age of 20, while other more advanced diagnostic tests can begin at a later age.

What are the different types of heart check-ups?

There are essentially two types of preventive cardiac health check-ups – routine and deep. The routine heart check-ups should start by the age of 20 to diagnose any issues early and adopt preventive measures to improve heart health. However, some specific tests are needed only in the later years of life, such as the above 35 years. But in case, the doctor finds any signs of heart disease or even the slightest risk of a problem the doctor will prescribe additional tests.

What are routine heart check-ups? 

Routine cardiovascular tests are diagnostics exams that analyse the general health of the heart and identify any potential risk factors. It is advisable for everyone above 20 years of age to get a routine heart check-up done every six months. 

Some common heart check-ups include:

  • Blood pressure and blood cholesterol tests
  • Blood glucose tests
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) tests

In case, the person has risk or any signs of heart disease or even a family history of heart diseases the doctor might start the routine heart screenings from an early age. For these cases, the medical professional can also advise a test of C-reactive protein to check C-reactive protein (CRP) in the heart. The CRP is an indicator of swelling or infection in the heart, which can cause a heart attack if not corrected well in time.

What are the more advanced heart check-ups?

Advanced heart check-ups are diagnostic tests advised by the doctor in case there are any warnings signs of heart diseases. Moreover, even if a person has a family history of heart disease, the doctor might advise specific tests to understand cardiac health better. 

Some advanced heart check-ups include:

  • Electrocardiography (ECG, EKG): In this test, the doctor measures the heart’s electrical activity by placing small, sticky electrodes to the chest and linking them to a different machine, known as ECG. The machine assesses the heart rate and rhythm and gives information about the overall health of the heart. 
  • Cardiac stress test: In this test, the doctor attaches electrodes the patient’s chest and links these electrodes to an ECG machine, while the patient is asked to run on a treadmill, pedal or a stationary cycle to enable recording of the heart’s activity under stress.
  • Echocardiography: In this assessment, an ultrasound machine is used to make the moving images of the patient’s heart. This test helps the doctor assess the pumping function of the heart muscle and know the general condition of the heart valves. Usually, this test is done before or after exercise. In some cases, the patient is also given specific medications to assess the impact. 
  • Nuclear stress test: In this heart health check-up, the doctor places a small amount of permissible radioactive dye in the patient’s bloodstream. Once the dye enters the blood, it travels to the heart muscle, enabling the doctor to obtain clear images of the heart. This test is done when the person is resting, as well as, once after exercise to evaluate the difference in both circumstances.
  • Cardiac CT scan: The doctor performs a cardiac CT scan to check the calcium scoring. The patient is asked to lie under the CT scanner, while the doctor places electrodes on the patient’s chest. The results help to assess the electrical activity of the heart, as well as, determine if there is any build-up of plaque in the arteries or existing blockage in the coronary arteries.
  • Coronary CT angiography (CTA): This specific diagnostic test helps to deeply record the activity of the heart muscle while providing absolute clarity on any plaque build-up or coronary artery blockage. In this test, the patient’s bloodstream is inserted with a contrast dye to help takes CT images of the heart via a CT scanner.
  • Coronary catheter angiography: In this heart check-up, the doctor inserts a tiny tube, called a catheter inside the groin of the patient. The catheter is then made to reach the heart via an artery. The patient’s bloodstream is inserted with a contrast dye to help the catheter reach the precise location, as well as take X-Ray images of the inside of the heart. 

For patients who show any risks or existing issues in their test results, will have to undertake necessary treatment, as well adopt specific lifestyle changes and medications to minimise any future risk.

When should one get these tests done?

Generally, doctors advise the below age limits to begin the heart health check-ups:

  • Weight and BMI check-ups: Six-monthly check-ups for all age groups
  • Blood pressure check-ups: From the age of 20 and once every two years
  • Blood cholesterol check-ups: From the age of 20 and once in every four to six years
  • Blood glucose check-ups: From the age of 40 or 45 and once every three years

Apart from these regular screenings, for some patients, the doctors might recommend cardiac health check-ups at an early age to reduce risks of the future.

What are the benefits of regular heart check-ups?

Regular heart check-ups provide the following benefits:

  • Regular screening help in timely detection of critical heart issues like blocked arteries, the build-up of plaque, disease of the blood vessels, etc. Early diagnosis easily minimises the risk of these heart issues, improves chances of survival and full recovery. Moreover, regular check-ups reduce the duration of treatment, which helps to save more money and also avoid surgeries and other serious medical expenditure.
  • Regular heart check-ups help to minimise heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. Timely medical screenings provide an update on these health statistics and help take immediate preventive action, in case of discrepancies.
  • Preventive heart check-ups act as scheduled report cards, providing detailed insights into the general state of the heart and it functioning.The heart test results help people stay alert about their health, identify triggers and avoid any complications. Moreover, reports also motivate people to stay healthy, maintain balanced body weight and exercise regularly. All this, in turn, reduces the risk of heart issues.
  • Continuous heart check-ups help to keep heart vitals and necessary health indicators in check. These indicators include blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. 

Overall, regular heart check-ups are significantly helpful in preventing heart issues, as well as reducing their intensity, enabling a healthier life.

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