Heart & vascular screenings: What’s the difference?

Heart & vascular screenings: What’s the difference?

From diet to exercise, there are many ways we can support our hearts.

However, when it comes to catching problems early, there’s no better resource than heart and vascular screenings.

The difference, explained

You may be asking yourself, “Aren’t heart and vascular screenings the same thing?”

While they are similar, they’re also very different, says Alexa Reynolds, Sanford Health lead exercise physiologist at the Fargo, North Dakota, Center for Screening.

Reynolds says a heart screening looks at the risk for coronary heart disease.

Schedule a screening:

“We would be looking at their blood pressure. We run a cholesterol check, we check their height and weight, and do an EKG (electrocardiogram) of their heart to look at rate and rhythm,” she said.

“Then, we use a tool called a Framingham score to assess their 10 year risk for developing heart disease. If our patients are found to be at a high risk, that means 6% or higher for the next 10 years, then the patient does a CT scan, which looks at the calcium build up.”

A vascular screening, Reynolds explains, is essentially an ultrasound of a patient’s arteries in their neck, abdominal aorta, and legs.

“We have vascular techs looking for any risk of stroke, abdominal aortic aneurysm, also varicose veins and reflux,” she said.

Why they’re important

Reynolds says they’re different screenings, but equally important.

“Your risk of heart attack and stroke kind of go hand in hand. In some cases, if you have calcium buildup in the heart, you most likely have plaque somewhere else in your body as well,” Reynolds said.

She says that as we grow older, calcium naturally builds in our arteries. This makes yearly screenings all the more important.

And, despite the pandemic, Reynolds stresses it’s safe to seek care at Sanford Health.

“We’re really encouraging all patients to still continue with their yearly physicals, visits, and maintenance. Screenings are included in that. We’re doing everything we can here to keep our patients safe. We want patients to know they are safe coming into our clinic, and they’re going to be safe their appointments.”

Preventing problems in the first place

Reynolds says yearly screenings are the best way to catch problems early. She adds that prevention is the best medicine.

“Exercise is like your magic pill. It’s going to help with your blood pressure and cholesterol,” she said.

Along with exercise, Reynolds says the earlier you implement a heart-healthy diet, the better.

Are screenings important for older adults?

Good Samaritan Society Chief Medical Officer Gregory Johnson, M.D., says these screenings help keep older adults healthy.

“While some conditions decrease in their risk as people age, that is not the case with heart and vascular disease. As people age, their risk of heart and vascular disease continues to increase,” Dr. Johnson said.

He urges older adults and residents at the Society to seek care.

“We recommend continued preventative measures for heart and vascular issues as our residents age,” Dr. Johnson said.

During the pandemic, Dr. Johnson says too many people are putting off getting help.

“We saw a massive increase in the number of admissions to the hospital in the last quarter of 2020,” Dr. Johnson said. “It was people who hadn’t sought care who had been staying in, hunkering down. Safety starts to be compromised when we neglect the health conditions we have and we don’t seek care for them.”

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