I ask my patients to see me at least once a year for a physical exam and certain tests. It helps determine how healthy your heart currently is. That’s a start. But, unlike me, your doctor may not offer one of the newest, best heart attack risk predictor test out there as it’s not yet available everywhere. That’s why I’d like to tell you about it and how you can get one.
Do You Know Your REAL Heart Attack/Stroke Risk?
Allow me to share this shocking statistic with you. Over 500,000 “seemingly healthy” people have a heart attack every year. About half of those people will die within the first hour. More people will suffer and/or die from a heart attack or stroke, in the U.S., than car accidents, cancer, and AIDS put together, according to a study in the journal, Circulation. Jaw dropping, right?
But, how can that be? Most of these people saw their doctor for their annual physical. And their doctor told them they were in good health. Their “bad” LDL cholesterol numbers were normal. They weren’t overweight and they didn’t seem to be under a lot of stress. So, what happened to these “healthy” people that they suffered, and maybe even died from, a heart attack or stroke?
Researchers looked into these troubling statistics. Some answers were found in studies out of the New England Journal of Medicine, the journal Lancet, and the American Heart Journal. The traditional tests for heart disease risk factors missed a large number of people with hidden heart disease.
New research shows that the endothelium, or lining, of your blood vessels likely holds the real answer to whether you will suffer a heart attack. Heart researchers now believe that if your endothelium is healthy you won’t get a heart attack or stroke. And the health of your endothelium has a lot more to do with what your annual cholesterol numbers or the scale show.
As a result, researchers are now looking more at endothelial dysfunction as THE risk factor that trumps all the others. But that’s not to say that all those other risk factors don’t mean anything. On the contrary, risk factors like smoking, bad fats, too little exercise, overweight, high stress, etc all contribute to endothelial dysfunction. They can eat away at the lining (endothelium) of your blood vessels causing them to become inflamed, hard and thick. As a result, they start losing their elasticity. With less elasticity, blood vessels are unable to contract normally. This creates decreased blood flow to your heart and brain. With thickened walls, blood moves slower and clots can develop cutting off blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke. That’s why researchers now would rather “cut to the chase” so to speak in looking for heart disease. Endothelial dysfunction is the end-product of all those other risk factors’ damage.
So, researchers created the EndoPat test. It’s a noninvasive, pretty simple test that can tell your doctor whether you have endothelial dysfunction in about 15 minutes. The results of this test can alert you to make further diet and/or lifestyle changes to prevent a future heart attack or stroke. It can also help determine PAD – peripheral arterial disease – that causes pain in your legs as well as heart failure.
The EndoPat: New Heart Test Reveals Your Real Risk
Your doctor may want to add the EndoPat to your other cardiac risk factor tests. Most insurance carriers cover the test, but yours may not. You may want to call and ask your carrier if the test is covered or how much of the cost you will be responsible for. If it’s not covered at all, you can still get an EndoPat done at a center in your area that performs them (see the “Dr. Near You” link at the end of this article). You will simply need to pay out of pocket for the test. Most providers charge about $149 for the consultation and the test. I believe that it’s well worth the cost.
The EndoPat assesses new disease as well as monitors how well your current treatments are working to heal your endothelium. The procedure is easy and painless. You can even have the test done in the time you’re waiting to see your doctor for your physical.
Before you have the test, though, you will need to fast for about 4 hours prior. This also means drinking no coffee, caffeinated sodas, taking vitamins or medications that might affect your vascular tone. On the day of your test, wear something comfortable with easy access to your arms and no obstructing jewelry. Once at the test center, you will be placed in a special, comfortable reclining chair and allowed to lie back. You don’t even have to change into one of those cold and uncomfortable gowns.
A blood pressure cuff is placed on one of your upper arms and you’ll sit/lie there to relax for about 15 minutes. This allows your heart and vascular tone to calm down in case you’re like most of my patients with “doctor office nerves”. After 15 minutes is up, you’re blood pressure will be taken. Then a blood pressure cuff will be placed on the other arm and a finger monitoring device will also be set up.
The index finger from one of your hands will then be placed into the finger monitoring device and the blood pressure cuff on that arm inflated for about 5 minutes. You may feel a little numbness in your hand on that arm for a moment but nothing uncomfortable. Then the cuff and finger device will be released and the study is complete. Your results will be read and your doctor will inform you of your “Endo Score”. This is the level of your endothelial dysfunction, if any.
It’s important to take the best preventative care of your heart – and the rest of you – as possible. That means quitting smoking, eating a heart and blood sugar healthy diet, omitting trans fats, exercising more, and finding ways to dial down stress. An EndoPat test can help you assess how successful you are in these efforts and which you may need to tweak more to prevent future disease.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
The EndoPat test, http://www.itamar-medical.com/EndoPAT%E2%84%A2/Patient_Information/Primary_Prevention/Step_One
The EndoPat Test, Doctor Near You, http://www.itamar-medical.com/Doctor_Near_You
My Heart Health, http://www.trevetts.net/myheart/