Screening for cardiovascular risk factors before you develop heart disease can help you prevent it.
Why screen for heart disease?
Preventing heart disease starts with knowing your risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a chronic disease that is heavily influenced by lifestyle factors – many of which you can change to reduce your risk.
Risk factors include smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and stress. For women, medications that contain the hormone estrogen or a history of pre-eclampsia can also increase your risk.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost nine out of every 10 Canadians has at least one risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease is also on the rise in women, and South Asians and Aboriginal people also face higher risk. Almost 80 per cent of heart disease can be prevented by adopting healthier habits. A heart disease screen can be done at any age, but is often done more frequently with age.
What does a screening involve?
During a screen for heart disease, a health care provider will likely ask you a series of questions about your health and evaluate your vital signs.
Topics covered could include:
- Questions about your medical history and current symptoms
- Questions about current smoking habits or smoking history
- Questions about your current alcohol consumption or history
- Questions about heart disease and diabetes in your family and among relatives
- A physical exam including weighing you and measuring your waist circumference
- Measuring your cholesterol levels and blood pressure
- Listening to your heart beat to check for irregular rhythms
- Referring you to another health care provider for further evaluation and tests
Learn about the types of heart tests.
Who can screen me for heart disease?
Your primary health care provider, such as your family doctor or nurse practitioner, can evaluate and screen you for heart disease.
There are also a variety of self-assessment tools you can use yourself at home to get a preliminary idea of your level of cardiovascular health and risk of heart disease. Here are a few reliable options:
Keep in mind that self-assessment is not a medical diagnosis. See your health care provider if your self-assessment indicates any concerns, or if you are experiencing any physical symptoms. If you believe you may be having a heart attack, seek immediate emergency attention.
What do I do if my screening indicates I am at risk of heart disease?
Knowing your risk is the first step to taking charge of your health. Together with your doctor, you can monitor your heart health and develop a plan to improve your health and reduce your risk factors.
Making significant changes to your lifestyle will be an important part of this process.
Learn more about how to make healthy lifestyle changes.
- HealthLink BC: Heart attack and stroke risk screening
- HealthLink BC: Heart Tests: When do you need them?
- HealthLink BC: Heart disease in women
- Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre
- Heart and Stroke Foundation: Risk assessment
- Mayo Clinic: Heart disease risk calculator
- American College of Cardiology: Heart disease risk assessment