5 Ways to Measure Your Heart Disease Risk

April 04, 2016 4:25 PM

Your risk of heart disease can typically be measured with routine tests from a primary care physician. Make sure these five easy diagnostics are on your cardiovascular checklist.

Am I at risk for heart disease? It’s a question all people should be asking themselves, regardless of age, weight, race or gender.

The best way to find out: simple routine screenings that give doctors a more detailed look at a patient’s internal and external factors.

The American Heart Association recommends the following key tests to keep tabs on your cardiovascular health.

1. Blood pressure 

Blood pressure is one of the most important screenings because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms — so it can’t be detected without being measured. High blood pressure greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Genetics, for some, offer a reason to get checked: After age 65, women have a higher risk of high blood pressure than men. Likewise, black men of all ages have a higher-than-average risk.

If your blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg — a level considered normal — be sure to measure it at least once every two years starting at age 20. If your blood pressure is higher, your doctor may want to check it more often.

High blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication.

2. Fasting lipoprotein profile (cholesterol and triglycerides)

You should have a fasting lipoprotein profile taken every four to six years starting at age 20. This is a multifaceted blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides.

You may need to be tested more frequently if your health care provider determines that you’re at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke. Older women tend to have higher triglyceride levels than men.

Like high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides often can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication.

3. Body weight

Starting at around age 20, you may be asked by your health care provider for your waist circumference or body weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI) during a routine visit. These measurements may determine whether you’re at a healthy weight and composition.

About two of every three adults in the United States are overweight or obese — putting them at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems.

4. Blood glucose

Starting at age 45, you should have your blood glucose levels checked at least every three years. High blood glucose levels put you at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Left untreated, diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems, including heart disease and stroke. If you’re overweight and have at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend a blood glucose test even if you’re not yet 45 (or more frequently than once every three years).

5. Smoking, physical activity, diet

Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. If you smoke, tell your doctor at your next health care visit. Your doctor can suggest approaches to help you quit.

Discuss your diet and level of physical activity, too. If there’s room for improvement in your diet (too much sugar, for example) and you could stand to get more exercise, ask your doctor for suggestions.