Do You Have Hidden Heart Disease?
In last week’s Monday Morning Health Tip I concluded by sharing that my father died from a massive heart attack at the age of 59. His first major heart attack had occurred 5 years earlier. When compared to his immediate family history it would seem that he had been living on borrowed time—as his father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 39!
Given this family history, you can imagine that my own heart health has me a bit concerned. This being the case, I have always sought to “do the right thing” by my heart. I eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise fairly regularly, and maintain my body weight within the prescribed “normal” BMI category. Additionally, my annual EKG readings are unremarkable, my blood pressure is on the low side of normal, my pulse rate is good, and my cholesterol levels (both good and bad) are within the “healthy” range. But is that enough? I always wondered.
This January I will be entering into my 50’s. (The decade of my father’s demise.) Recently I expressed my niggling cardiac concern to my primary care physician and she told me that if it would ease my mind, she would refer me to a cardiologist for a consultation.
The cardiologist that evaluated me confirmed what my primary doctor had believed about my heart health—that on paper I looked like a model of heart health. Yet, he did agree that my family history was cause for some concern. So he recommended that we look for evidence of plaquing within my arteries and for inflammation markers within my blood. If any of these tests came back positive, he would place me on statin medicines to protect me against cardiovascular disease—even though all my other numbers were unremarkable.
So I underwent these three tests:
- Carotid sonogram (to look for plaque in the major blood vessels in my neck)
- Transcranial sonogram (to look for plaque in the major blood vessels in my brain)
- Highly sensitive C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation specific to the blood vessels)
The results of my tests were found to be unremarkable and I was declared to have a cardiologist-confirmed, clean bill of heart health—not just a good guess!
I wanted to share this personal account because a recent study in the scientific journal of Circulation revealed that 45% of heart attacks which occur are SILENT, meaning they happen without notable symptoms.
Please, take the time to investigate your own heart health, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.