Should I get a Healthy Heart Check?
A Healthy Heart Check, also known as a cardiovascular risk assessment, is a preventive screening tool used to assess your individual risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Let’s look at what’s involved in this heart check-up.
Who should get a Healthy Heart Check?
The specific recommendations for who should get a Healthy Heart Check may vary based on your personal risk factors. Here are some general recommendations.
It is recommended that individuals aged 40 to 75 years should consider getting a cardiovascular risk assessment. This age range is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Patients with specific conditions
Individuals with certain medical conditions or risk factors may also benefit from a Healthy Heart Check at a younger age. These conditions and risk factors include:
- High blood pressure: If you have hypertension or a history of high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
- High cholesterol: Individuals with high levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol), or low levels of HDL cholesterol (often referred to as “good” cholesterol) may benefit from a cardiovascular risk assessment.
- Diabetes: Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Obesity: Excessive body weight and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. People with a body mass index (BMI) above a certain threshold may benefit from a cardiovascular risk assessment. It’s important to ask your GP if this applies to you.
- Family history: If you have a family history of cardiovascular diseases, especially at a younger age, you may have an increased risk yourself and should consider a Healthy Heart Check.
- Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. Smokers should consider a cardiovascular risk assessment, and it is also an opportunity to discuss smoking cessation strategies with your doctor.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity can contribute to cardiovascular diseases.
Other risk factors
Other risk factors include a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), chronic kidney disease, and certain autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus) that can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
It is important to note that these recommendations are general guidelines, and individual circumstances can vary. It is best to consult with your doctor who can evaluate your specific risk factors and provide personalised recommendations regarding a Healthy Heart Check.
What’s involved in a Healthy Heart Check?
You should see your GP for a Healthy Heart Check every few years after age 45, or more often if medically recommended. The assessment usually involves:
Medical history assessment
Your doctor will review your medical history, including any previous cardiovascular events, family history of heart disease, and other relevant information.
A physical exam may be conducted to assess your overall health, including blood pressure measurement, listening to the heart sounds using a stethoscope, and checking for any signs of cardiovascular abnormalities.
Blood tests are commonly performed to evaluate specific markers associated with cardiovascular health. These may include:
- Lipid profile: Measures the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood. Abnormal lipid levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
- Blood sugar levels: Testing for fasting blood glucose levels or glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) to assess for diabetes or prediabetes, as these conditions increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Inflammatory markers: Certain markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) or high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) may be measured to evaluate inflammation levels in the body, which can be associated with heart disease.
Cardiovascular risk score
Your doctor can use validated risk assessment tools, such as the Framingham Risk Score or the ASCVD (Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease) Risk Estimator, to calculate an individual’s risk of developing a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, within a certain timeframe (e.g. 10 years). These scores take into account factors such as age, sex, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking status, and diabetes.
Lifestyle and behavioural assessment
Your GP may discuss lifestyle factors that can impact cardiovascular health, including diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress management. They may offer guidance on making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Based on the results of the assessment, your doctor can provide recommendations tailored to your individual risk profile. These recommendations may include lifestyle modifications, medication management, further diagnostic tests if necessary, and regular follow-up appointments to monitor your cardiovascular health.