Screening decreases risk of heart attacks

We often engage in preventative measures only after a car crash. Typically, we blame the driver for not wearing a seatbelt or being ignorant enough to check a notification on the highway. But for heart disease, preventative measures can mean the difference between life and death. In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death. 600,000 Americans die from heart disease annually, surmounting to almost one in every four deaths. Simply put, early detection and prevention of heart disease are musts. 

According to Craig Bowron, an emergency medicine physician at a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, up to 70% of entering patients for heart attacks had not received prior diagnosis of an impending heart attack. This is a problem. An increasing number of people are only finding out about their coronary heart disease when paramedics arrive to pull the weight off their chest, from young Americans to even government officials like Senator Bernie Sanders. 

The blockage that takes so many lives is caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup overtime of plaque on the inner walls. These blood vessels that feed certain areas of the heart in turn die. Over time, arteries begin to scar and become narrow, constricting blood flow to parts of the body. This, in essence, is a heart attack.

Mostly caused by lifestyle, heart disease leading to heart attack is commonly associated with phrases like “junk food” or “high cholesterol.” With the diet that the typical American consumes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease in general becomes prevalent in almost 9% of U.S adults. Common methods of detection such as computerized tomography or X-rays are unable to differentiate between affected arteries and healthy ones.

There is good news, however. In contemporary society, the emerging use of Coronary Artery Calcium Screening using CT scans can determine whether arteries are blocked. CAC Screening, for short, predicts the probability of a heart attack. Low risk amounts to less than 5% chance of occurrence, borderline is 5 to 7.5% and intermediate is 7.5 to 20%, indicating a dangerously high level of risk.

This would be especially useful for those on the verge of experiencing a heart attack, as it serves as an accurate and early detection method. Even the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are on board, recently updating their guidelines to advise CAC testing for those who could be at risk of heart disease.

As Americans retain lifestyles that promote heart disease, it will be a substantial amount of time before societal norms promote a healthier diet nationwide. But for now, there are measures that can be taken to detect the condition early and take action to prevent its progression, possibly even a heart attack.