doctor listening to patient's heart

Between work or school, caring for loved ones, and maybe having some personal time of your own, you may think it’s impossible to squeeze another appointment into your already jam-packed schedule. You might not even be thinking about heart checkups, but making time to have at least an annual exam is crucial for living a healthy life, even if you do not currently have any vascular conditions. Some heart conditions – and their risk factors, like high cholesterol – may go undetected if regular checkups and health screenings aren’t a part of your routine.

The best way to prevent cardiovascular disease is to detect and manage major risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high total cholesterol, and high blood glucose. By performing yearly heart screenings, your doctor can test for these risk factors and prescribe the best treatment options – whether it’s lifestyle changes, medications, or referring your to a cardiologist.

So, what can you expect at your checkup? Your doctor will carry out several tests to determine if you are at risk for heart disease, including the following:

Blood Pressure Test

The only way to detect high blood pressure is by having a blood pressure test. High blood pressure can cause severe damage to your arteries and create blood clots, increasing your risk of heart attack and heart failure. A blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or lower is ideal, and your doctor may want to check your blood pressure more frequently if your number is higher or if you are over the age of 65.

Cholesterol Test

Starting at age 20, you should have your cholesterol checked every 4-5 years. High cholesterol shows no symptoms, and people with high cholesterol have no idea of their risk until they are tested. A fasting lipoprotein profile is a blood test that shows total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good” cholesterol,” and triglycerides (another form of fat in blood). An ideal total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL, and your doctor can work with you to lower your LDL cholesterol.

Blood Glucose Test

Measuring the amount of glucose, or sugar, in your blood helps your doctor determine your risk of developing insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or Type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can cause heart disease and stroke, among other medical complications. Obesity increases your chances of having high blood glucose.

In addition to these tests, your doctor will need to know your body weight, your daily diet, your exercise routine, and your smoking habits. High BMI (body mass index), a poor diet, minimal exercise, and smoking all greatly increase your risk of heart disease, especially when paired with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood glucose. Also if you have a pre-existing cardiovascular condition, have suffered a heart attack or stroke, or have diabetes, your doctor will want you to have more frequent exams.

Taking care of your heart should be a priority and getting regular checkups is the best way to ensure you’re keeping your heart healthy.

To learn more about keeping your heart healthy, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute online or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484) to schedule an appointment.