Heart attacks are mostly caused by blockages in one or more coronary arteries. The blockages disrupt the flow of blood to the heart which results in death of heart muscle. The intensity of the heart attack depends on how much heart muscle is deprived of oxygen. Every heart attack reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently, which further stresses the heart and in turn, impacts functioning of the entire body.
Are heart attacks common among the elderly only?
No. Age is just a number, and you should get yourself checked ASAP if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: dizziness, a shallow or accelerated heartbeat, chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, or sudden swelling in the legs, feet, ankles, or abdomen.
During a check-up, your doctor may ask about your family history and check your heart rate and blood pressure. He may also run a couple of blood tests along with other routine tests. Shockingly, there have been frequent misdiagnoses of heart diseases, more so in women than in men. So, here are some advanced reliable tests that you should get done as a precautionary measure. These tests help detect arterial blockages due to blood clots, narrowing of blood vessels by plaque deposition, and structural changes in the heart. They are almost foolproof soothsayers of a future heart condition.
Noninvasive Heart Tests
Afraid of strange, unfamiliar instruments entering your body? Don’t worry. You can opt for the following easier, safer, noninvasive heart tests to determine if you are at risk of having a heart attack:
Cardiac Calcium Scoring
Artherosclerotic plaque in arteries is caused by the deposition of fatty materials on arterial walls and consists mostly of calcium, cholesterol, and scar tissue. This test helps determine the amount of calcified plaque (a major sign of coronary heart disease) in the arteries and, hence, the probability of a heart attack.
Carotid Intimal Medial Thickness Test
This test determines the thickness of the walls of left and right carotid arteries supplying blood to the heart. The thicker the arterial walls, the higher the risk of a heart attack.
High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein Test
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a potent indicator of inflammation. Cholesterol plaque injures blood vessels, causes inflammation, and increases the CRP level in the body. This test needs to be supported by other tests as high CRP can be caused due to other inflammation as well, not just from the coronary arteries.
Advanced Lipid Profile and Lipoprotein(a) Test
The size of cholesterol particles in the blood determines whether it will stick to the arterial walls (Small-sized Low Density Lipoprotein) or simply bounce off it (Large-sized High Density Lipoprotein). This test helps determine the percentage of small-sized, risk-bearing cholesterol particles present in blood vessels.
A1C Blood Glucose Test
People diagnosed with diabetes have a high chance of having a heart attack. This test determines your blood sugar level and hence, your future risk of developing diabetes and having a heart attack.
Certain variants of the two genes KIF6 and APOE, are associated with a high risk of heart disease. These tests helps locate these mutant genes and tell you if you are heart disease prone.
This test monitors the flow of blood to and from the heart. In this way it indicates whether your heart’s pumping chambers are working fine and if your coronary arteries are blockage-free.
Here are some more noninvasive tests to determine the existence or seriousness of a heart condition. They are less predictive and more diagnostic.
Cardiac Blood Pool Scan
This test indicates how well your heart is pumping blood to the rest of your body. It involves the injection of a tracer (radioactive substance) into your blood stream that is monitored as it travels through your veins. This test reflects the size of the heart chambers and catches any disruptions in blood flow or distortions in the structure of the heart.
Cardiac CT Scan
This test uses an x-ray machine and an iodine-based dye to take pictures of your heart and blood vessels from different angles. These pictures are then computed into a 3D image of the whole heart. Coronary artery disease, problems with blood vessels and heart valves, and structure-related problems of the heart can be easily detected by this method.
Cardiac MRI Scan
This test is particularly useful for people who are allergic to the dyes used in CT scans. Another advantage is that it does not use potentially harmful radiations. It uses powerful magnets and radiowaves to capture still and moving pictures of the heart and major blood vessels. It is used to help assess the pumping action of the heart along with structure-related problems.
Myocardial Perfusion Scan
This test locates major blockages in the blood supply to the heart. In this way, it checks for coronary artery disease and for damages caused by a previous heart attack.
Echocardiogram, Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG), and Exercise EKG
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to construct pictures of your heart. It determines the electrical activity of your heartbeat and tells you if your heart is doing what it’s supposed to do i.e. pumping blood at regular intervals. A variant called exercise EKG ensures your heart is healthy enough for physical activity.
Better Safe Than Sorry!
Many of these tests are expensive, and many cannot be afforded by the common man. However, it is better to be safe than sorry and bear these costs than to pay for ten-fold more expensive treatment of a heart disease. You can reduce the risk of complications with early diagnosis and treatment. Factors that may put you at a higher risk for heart disease include family history, diet, weight, age, and habits such as smoking.