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Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?

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Finding Out If You Have Heart Disease

Don't wait: Find out if you have heart disease now. Here are the steps for figuring out what screenings you need, and when.

By age 30, get your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar checked annually.

You should also have your cholesterol levels evaluated both before and a few months after going on the pill, because it can increase your levels of triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol. And ask about a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP) -- high levels can indicate increased risk even when LDL cholesterol levels are normal.

Assess your total risk.

Based on your numbers, many doctors use online tools to assess your chances of a heart attack and to determine what future tests you need. Consider the female-focused Reynolds Risk Score (www.reynoldsriskscore.org), which, like the older, male-centric Framingham risk score, accounts for high blood pressure and smoking but also considers factors that can be particularly troubling in women, such as inflammatory markers and certain cholesterol types.

If you have multiple risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease or obesity, and no symptoms, ask about the following:

  • Calcium score test. A computerized-tomography (CT) scan detects calcium deposits (a component of plaque) in the arteries that supply your heart with blood. The calcium score test is quick, noninvasive, and especially helpful for detecting microvascular disease.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG). Also crucial for patients who are experiencing acute heart-attack symptoms, an EKG uses sticky pads containing electrodes that are placed on the neck, chest, arms, and legs. These record the heart's electrical impulses and can reveal reduced blood flow or other heart damage.

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