Heart-Health Screenings

Updated:May 18,2017

Have you checked your blood pressure lately?The key to preventing cardiovascular disease, also called coronary artery disease (CAD), is managing your risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high total cholesterol or high blood glucose. But how do you know which risk factors you have? The best way to find out is through screening tests during regular doctor visits.

Few of us have ideal risk levels on all screening tests. However, if you do have test results that are less than ideal, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to develop a serious cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, it means you’re in a position to begin changing your health in a positive way. Find out your heart score with My Life Check.

Most regular cardiovascular screening tests should begin at age 20. The frequency of follow up will depend on your level of risk.

You will probably require additional and more frequent testing if you’ve been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation, or if you have a history of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, your doctor may want more stringent screening if you already have risk factors or a family history of cardiovascular disease.

Here are the key screening tests recommended for optimal cardiovascular health:

Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is one of the most important screenings because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms so it can’t be detected without being measured. High blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, be sure to get it checked at least once every two years, starting at age 20. If your blood pressure is higher, your doctor may want to check it more often. High blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes and/or medication. 

Fasting Lipoprotein Profile (cholesterol)
You might have a fasting lipoprotein profile taken every four to six years, starting at age 20. This is a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. (Learn more about cholesterol levels.) You may need to be tested more frequently if your healthcare provider determines that you’re at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.

Like high blood pressure, often cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes and/or medication.

Body Weight
Starting around 20 years old, your healthcare provider may ask for your waist circumference or use your body weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI) during your routine visit. These measurements may tell you and your physician whether you’re at a healthy body weight and composition. Being obese puts you at higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. 

Blood Glucose
Starting at age 45, you should have your blood glucose level checked at least every three years. High blood glucose levels put you at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke. If you’re overweight AND you have at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor, your doctor may recommend a blood glucose test even if you’re not yet 45, or more frequently than every 3 years.

Smoking, physical activity, diet
If you smoke, tell your doctor at your next healthcare visit. Your doctor can suggest approaches to help quit. Also discuss your diet and physical activity habits. If there’s room for improvement in your diet and daily physical activity levels, ask your doctor to provide helpful suggestions.

Recommended Schedule for Screening Tests
Recommended ScreeningsHow Often?Starting when?
Blood pressureEach regular healthcare visit or at least once every 2 years if blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm HgAge 20
Cholesterol (“fasting lipoprotein profile” to measure total, HDL and LDL cholesterol)Every 4-6 years for normal-risk people; more often if any you have elevated risk for heart disease and strokeAge 20
Weight / Body Mass Index (BMI)During your regular healthcare visitAge 20
Waist circumferenceAs needed to help evaluate cardiovascular risk. This is a supplemental measurement if your BMI is greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2.Age 20
Blood glucose testAt least every 3 yearsAge 45
Discuss smoking, physical activity, dietEach regular healthcare visitAge 20

This content was last reviewed July 2014.


Cardiovascular Conditions

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