Your Health A-Z

Should you be going for a heart screening?

You may never have had heart trouble before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not at risk. A Mediclinic heart specialist explains when to book a routine screening.

When it comes to your heart, it’s all too easy to ignore it until you develop problems. Dr Anil Kurian, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria says it’s important to go for regular heart screenings because even if you haven’t had any issues with your heart before, you could still be at risk.

“From a cardiac viewpoint, one has to look at the risk for cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr Kurian. “People are categorised into low, intermediate, or high risk, which then dictates what type of screening they should go for.” He says a number of factors influence what level of heart disease risk a person might have. These include:

  • Age – older people are more at risk.
  • Sex and ethnicity – certain conditions associated with a higher risk for heart disease are more prevalent in certain groups of people.
  • Smoking status – smokers have a higher risk of heart disease than non-smokers.
  • Comorbidities – such as hypertension and diabetes.
  • Family history of premature coronary artery disease.

 

According to Dr Kurian, everyone over age 18 should go for regular heart assessments to check their risk for what doctors call “cardiac events”. “These are events such as heart attacks and strokes,” he explains. People who are at low risk should visit their GP for a heart assessment at least every five years. Those who are at intermediate or high risk should have a heart screening at least every two years – although an annual screening may be recommended for some high-risk people.

Depending on your risk level, the screening you require could be fairly straightforward or more specialised. “For low-risk individuals, it will just be lifestyle assessment and a cholesterol test,” says Dr Kurian. These can be done by your GP as part of a routine check-up. However, those with intermediate or high risk for heart disease will need special tests to check the condition of the heart. “These could include resting or stress ECGs, a CT scan to look for calcium scores (this measures calcium deposits – the higher the score, the higher your risk) or any narrowing of blood vessels, and sonars to look at heart contractility – the force of the heart’s contraction.” If any of these tests pick up abnormalities, an invasive angiogram may be called for to identify, assess and treat them, he adds.

The sooner a heart condition is picked up, the lower your risk for suffering a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke. If you haven’t had a heart screening in a while, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to arrange one.




In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.