Heart Disease Screening Guidelines

Coronary artery calcium scoring is a CT scan that checks for calcium in the arteries to the heart.

Overview

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease, is the narrowing or closure of arteries that supply blood to the heart. The narrowing is caused by deposits of cholesterol and calcium that slowly build up along the artery wall. These deposits restrict blood flow and may break away from the artery wall and cause a heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women. The first signs of heart disease are most often heart attack or sudden death. This makes it challenging for doctors and patients to proactively diagnose and prevent it.

Following are the recommended screening guidelines for heart disease. Visit our heart disease page to learn more about this condition.

Standard Guidelines

The key to reducing your chances of developing heart disease is to manage your risk factors. Risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. The American Heart Association recommends regular screening exams to check these risk factors. By addressing any risk factors early, patients can make lifestyle changes or take medications to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack occurring.

Screening tests recommended by the American Heart Association include:

Blood Pressure

Starting at age 20, individuals whose blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mm Hg should have their blood pressure checked every two years. Individuals with higher blood pressure should consult with their physician to see if their blood pressure should be checked more frequently.

Fasting Lipoprotein (cholesterol and triglycerides)

This exam measure total cholesterol, "good" cholesterol (HDL), "bad" cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides. Starting at age 20, individuals should have a fasting lipoprotein profile taken every five years. Patients should talk with their physician about being screened more often if any of the following apply:

  • Total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL
  • Man over age 45 or Woman over age 50
  • HDL (good) cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL (if you're a man) or less than 50 mg/dL (if you're a woman)
  • Other risk factors for heart disease and stroke exist

Body Weight and Mass

Doctors should weigh patients and calculate their body mass index at every regular doctor’s visit starting when the patient is 20 years old.

Blood Glucose

Blood glucose levels should be checked every three years beginning at age 45. If an individual is overweight and has at least one other risk factor for cardiovascular disease, his or her physician may recommend this test at a younger age.

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

Coronary artery calcium scoring is a specialized CT scan that measures the amount of calcium present in the coronary arteries. The outcome of this exam is a powerful indicator of a person’s future heart attack risk. This exam has not been endorsed as a screening method because a negative result would indicate that the patient should modify his or her lifestyle to reduce heart attack risk. Patients are often expected to modify their lifestyles to protect their health regardless of test outcomes. The value of this test is that it may provide individuals with the extra motivation they need to adopt healthier habits when they otherwise would put off doing so.

High Risk Guidelines

There are no specific high risk guidelines for heart disease screening.

More Information

Learn more about the American Heart Association’s guidelines for heart disease screening.

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