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BEACON Senior News

4 techy tools to track your heart health

Jan 29, 2024 10:08AM ● By Sandra Gordon

As the nation’s number-one killer, heart disease should be on your radar. It’s a scary thought, but here’s the good news:

“Eighty percent of heart disease is preventable by controlling risk factors, whether it’s medication or lifestyle changes,” said Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, co-author of “Heart Smart for Women.” “Early diagnosis is really the key to improving outcomes.”

Plus, several new tools are available to give you a fighting chance.

At-home blood pressure monitoring 

An estimated 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure (greater than 130/80.)

“Most people think blood pressure is the pressure in their arm, but in reality, it’s the pressure in every blood vessel in your body, including the pressure inside the chamber of the heart,” said cardiologist Dr. Anuj Shah. 

High blood pressure is diagnosed when blood pressure—the force of blood against your artery walls when your heart beats and between beats—measures 130/80 or higher in the doctor’s office. But some people’s blood pressure naturally increases in the doctor’s office, a phenomenon known as white coat hypertension. 

To diagnose high blood pressure more accurately, a digital home blood pressure monitor can help. Self-monitoring over time can be more accurate than one blood pressure reading in the doctor’s office. 

Take your blood pressure at home at the same time daily. Mieres recommends taking at least two readings one minute apart each morning before medication and each evening before dinner. Keep a record and bring it to your doctor’s appointments. This type of homework can be a more accurate indicator of the need for blood pressure-lowering medication, or not.

High blood pressure doesn’t usually have signs or symptoms, but it can lead to stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Normal blood pressure of 120/80 or less is the goal. 

Event monitor

Atrial fibrillation (Afib), an irregular rhythm that causes one of the heart’s chambers to beat abnormally, is a common form of heart disease. Because of abnormal blood flow, a clot can develop, causing a stroke. 

“Afib is a progressive illness that can cause scarring to your heart. The longer you have it, the more difficult it can be to get your heart into a normal rhythm,” Eubany said. 

If you have Afib, the sooner it’s diagnosed and treated, the better.

An electrocardiogram (EKG), which provides a one-time picture of your heart rhythm, is the traditional way to diagnose Afib. The trouble is, you may not be in Afib the moment you get the EKG. 

Fortunately, an event monitor can give your doctor a more accurate assessment. 

An event monitor looks like a cell phone. Place it in your pocket, and every time you feel symptoms, such as a fluttering heart or lightheadedness, press the device to record your heart’s electrical rate and rhythm as you go about your daily activities.

Wear it round the clock for up to three weeks, except when taking a shower. 

Wearable heart monitor

How healthy is your heart? For a quick test, use a wearable heart rate monitor that fits your budget. (The one on your iPhone will do.) A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

If your heart rate is too high or low, see your doctor. 

“A wearable heart rate monitor can be accurate enough to help with initial detection and signal the need for diagnostic tests,” said Jacqueline A. Eubany, MD, author of “Women and Heart Disease: The Real Story.”

Cardiac CT

A heart attack is a medical emergency. It occurs when plaque—a hard buildup of fat and cholesterol in arteries—breaks open and a blood clot forms that blocks blood flow to your heart. Symptoms can include pain in the center of your chest, in one or both arms and shortness of breath.

A new imaging test, or a cardiac CT scan, can help doctors better predict your personal risk of heart attack before symptoms occur.

Cardiac CT uses computers to create a 3D image of the whole heart to help doctors look at the small vessels that feed your heart to detect coronary artery disease, problems with the aorta, calcium buildup in heart arteries and problems with heart function. 

“Ask for a risk assessment for ischemic heart disease at your next checkup,” Dr. Mieres said. 

Your doctor will enter your blood pressure and cholesterol into an online risk assessment calculator. 

If your chance of having a heart attack is 10 percent or more in the next decade, a cardiac CT is recommended. On the other hand, if you have symptoms, such as tightness in your chest, you’ll need an immediate EKG to make sure you’re not having a heart attack. 

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