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Healthy Heart by Numbers: Medical Tests You Need as You Age

Feb. 27, 2017 at midnight

Here's a bit of information that may make your heart skip a beat: when an American adult walks into a doctor's office for a medical check-up, his primary diagnosis will most likely be cardiovascular disease.

As the country's number one killer, there are a good 27.6 million people out there with a heart condition. The chances are high you might either develop such a condition in the future or already have one that simply hasn't been diagnosed. Unfortunately, some people think they needn't be worried because they're young and relatively fit. Heart disease doesn't discriminate and can even target anyone—even someone who thinks they're in perfect health. Bottom line? Get yourself examined. Regularly.

Blood Pressure Check in Your 20s

Once you hit your 20s, get your blood pressure (BP) checked. As you age, your BP will gradually rise and this is normal as long as it remains lower than 120/80 mm Hg. A BP of 140/90 or higher would require treatment. When left uncontrolled, it can lead to a heart attack, stroke or both.

If you fall into a higher risk group by having a family history of heart disease or you're an alcohol, tobacco and drug user, you should get your BP checked more often.

Cholesterol Screening in Your 30s

By the age of 30, cholesterol levels that are higher than normal are associated with an increased risk for heart disease later in life. Experts call the number of years with high cholesterol 'lipid years' that add up and develop into heart disease in your 50s and 60s. High cholesterol is measured through a finger-stick screening. Good cholesterol levels are less than:

  • 200 for total cholesterol;
  • 100 for LDL;
  • 40 (males) or 50 (females) for HDL; 150 for Triglycerides.

Diabetes Screening in Your 40s

When you're in your 40s, you should start getting screened for diabetes. Those with high blood pressure should get checked when they're younger. Screening is done with a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or hemoglobin A1C test. Normal blood sugar is between 70 and 100 mg/dL.

Diabetic Heart Disease (DHD) refers to heart conditions that develop in patients with diabetes. This includes coronary heart disease, diabetic cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.

Calcium Score Test in Your 50s

If you haven't been diagnosed by the time you're 50, some preventive cardiologists suggest getting a CT scan of your heart. It's believed to be the best predictor of a future heart attack if blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes tests say otherwise.

A calcium score is done by taking a CT scan of your heart and measuring the calcium deposits in your coronary arteries. A score of 0 means you have an insignificant amount of plaque buildup, while 400 predicts you'll have a heart attack in the next ten years. Scoring 1,000 means you need immediate medical treatment to prevent a heart attack within the year.

All of the Above in Your 60s and Older

Continue to get all these tests every year as you get older. Your doctor might also recommend more specialized tests suitable for your particular case.

What You Can Do Today

Celebrate Heart Health Awareness Month this February by visiting your doctor and having your numbers checked. Simple, quick, and painless—they're the easiest medical exams to undergo. Furthermore, these tests are inexpensive and most likely covered by your insurance. So, there's really no excuse to wait before you get them done.

No matter what your age, preventing cardiovascular disease should always be a priority so you can look forward to a long and healthy life!


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