Monday, February 24, 2020

When It Comes to Heart Health, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Life as a CEO is stressful. You feel the pressure of growing your company each year. You know your employees, their families, and even your own family depend on the company for their livelihoods. The pressure and responsibility to make the business a success can make it feel impossible to prioritize your own health. Frequently, this leads to poor sleep, inadequate exercise, and dietary choices that are about convenience and emotional support rather than fueling performance. 

And if you’re in your 40s and 50s, your heart disease risk is also increasing based purely on your age – nearly one in every 100 men develops signs of heart disease by the time they are 45, and that risk doubles by the time they are 55. For women, the risk starts to increase in yours 50s. 

In short, the lifestyle habits, stress levels, and age of most CEOS forms a recipe that significantly increases the risk for heart disease, which remains the No. 1 killer of men and women globally. 

So what can you do to protect yourself, your company, and your family? The key is knowledge. You can, and should, know as much as possible about your heart health and your risk factors for heart disease. And that starts with advanced cardiovascular screenings. 

What Tests Make Up Advanced Cardiovascular Screening?

The American Heart Association’s recommended heart health screenings look at things like blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, blood glucose, and lifestyle habits (smoking, exercise level, diet). But as we discussed earlier, as a CEO who feels the pressure of supporting your family and your employees’ families, you need more information to feel confident about your heart health. And that’s where advanced cardiovascular screenings come into play. 

Next time you go in for a physical or cardiology exam, ask about these advanced screenings. Keep in mind, most advance cardiovascular screenings go beyond what insurance covers each year, so you pay out of pocket for some, but the trade-off in knowledge can be well worth it.

  • EKG. Measures electrical current in the heart to determine heart rate, rhythm and other information regarding the heart’s condition. They are used for structural change, abnormal rhythm, or past damage.
  • Blood (advanced cardio profile and cholesterol/lipids). Goes beyond “good” and “bad” cholesterol to provide a detailed analysis of plaque-causing lipoproteins, as well as revealing markers of inflammation in your vessels and assessing metabolic health. 
  • CT Heart Scan. Evaluates for the buildup of plaque and calcium that could indicate risk for future heart attack as well as signaling increased risk for widespread cardiovascular disease.
  • ApoE Genetic Marker Evaluation. This genetic marker affects how your body uses statins and how easily your body is able to regulate cholesterol with diet, exercise, and statin medication. This test may also indicate an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Vascular View. These tests combine to give you a good measurement of how blood is flowing throughout the body from the heart and can provide indications of plaque that could cause stroke. A vascular view includes: 
    • Carotid Artery Screening. Measure the buildup of plaque, calcium and inflammation in the carotid artery.
    • Aortic Aneurysm Screening. Checks for aortic aneurysm.
    • Peripheral Artery Screening. Determines the presence of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), more commonly known as hardening of the arteries, which constricts the flow of blood in the extremities.

You might have noticed that a Treadmill Stress Test is not on this list — these may also be referred to as a Stress Echo Test or a Nuclear Stress Test. Whichever version you choose, these types of stress tests are diagnostic tools, not screening tools. As diagnostic tests, stress tests are helpful if you are already experience symptoms of cardiovascular disease or are at high risk for recurrent cardiovascular disease.

A well-exercised heart provides a wealth of information to the physician with regard to patients that are presenting current symptoms of heart disease. For patients without heart disease, this test only measures the fitness of your heart today. Although it feels like a significant test because you may be running and sweating and hooked up to electrodes, a stress test is not going to be able to predict the likelihood of a future heart event.

What Risk Factors Guide Advanced Cardiovascular Screenings? 

Not everyone needs every test we mentioned before. Which advanced cardiovascular screenings are right for you depends on your personal risk factors. Your doctor can help decide which tests make the most sense for you. Here are a few common considerations.

  • Age. With the presence of other risk factors, a cardiovascular screening may be a good option for setting a baseline beginning at age 40. At age 50+, the risk increases for everyone.
  • Family history. Family history influences risk factors, less because of genetics (which influence only 10% to 20% of health outcomes) than shared environmental factors, such as lifestyle, behavior patterns, and habits. However, a strong family history might encourage earlier testing. 
  • Prior testing. Based on how long ago those screenings took place and the results, any previous advanced cardiovascular screening can influence when and what kind of tests are recommended.
  • Lifestyle. Factors such as your current fitness level, diet, or stress management can increase or reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Level of concern. If you’re really worried about your heart health, if may bring you peace of mind simply to know your current health status and level of risk.

How Can You Prevent Cardiovascular Disease?

In addition to advanced heart screenings, you can do other things to improve your overall cardiovascular health:

  • Monitor your blood pressure. Be aware that recommendations/guidelines can change. At the end of 2017, the American College of Cardiology lowered its definition of hypertension to a blood pressure level of 130/80 mm Hg rather than 140/90. The ideal blood pressure is 120/70. 
  • Consider a plant-based diet. The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is a plant-focused diet, is a popular option. 
  • Know your family history and share this information with your doctor. 
  • Adopt other healthful lifestyle changes. Get regular exercise. Quit smoking (or don’t start). Minimize stress levels. Maintain a healthy weight. And get a good night’s sleep. 

Make Advanced Cardiovascular Screenings a Part of Your Annual Physical

As a CEO, you understand growth. Year over year growth means your company is growing and set up for success for the long-term. By adding advanced cardiovascular screenings to your annual physicals, you can track similar growth for the health of your heart year over year and set yourself up for success for the long-term. 


Dr. PongAbout the Author
Dr. David Pong is Director of Executive Health at PartnerMD. PartnerMD’s executive physicals provide the most medically advanced screenings available. Once a baseline is set for heart health, the client’s physician can get to work on improving health, reducing risk, and monitoring progress year over year.  Learn more here.

Editors Note: Content provided by PartnerMD, a Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs.

Posted by Staff at 12:53 pm
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