There is virtually nothing that can prepare someone for what they think is a routine trip to the doctor, only to be confronted with the news that something is seriously wrong with their health. This is especially true if the problem is associated with a person’s heart. Hearing those words might arguably be one of the worst things you could ever experience. The only thing worse is the prospect of dying from heart disease without ever even knowing that anything was wrong.
Despite all of this, people continue to die from heart disease at an alarming rate. It kills more people in the United States than any other disease. Still, many more are all but incapacitated from the disease, being forced to dramatically alter their lifestyle as the direct result of a heart attack or some other type of heart disease. In fact, more recent studies have determined that approximately one-half of all the people living in the United States have heart disease. Of course, some are more serious than others and many of these individuals don’t even know they have the disease. Sadly, the vast majority of them won’t know until they have a serious heart-related health issue. For several of those suffering from heart disease, the first symptom will be a heart attack, known in the medical community as a myocardial infarction. A number of those heart attacks will be fatal.
Understanding the Heart Disease Epidemic
Why do so many people suffer from this disease? Perhaps the more pressing question is why do so many have it without knowing about it? Unfortunately, the answers are sometimes related to older, more traditional screening techniques that don’t catch the disease in its earliest stages. This sometimes leads people to believe that they are in perfect or near-perfect health when there is actually a serious problem brewing just underneath the surface. Of course, this isn’t always the culprit. People that lead a sedentary lifestyle, eat unhealthy foods, and indulge in other habits that put their health at risk make up a rather large portion of individuals with heart disease. It also affects those who don’t get regular check-ups.
A New Era in Health Screening
No one can convince every person to go to the doctor and listen to their advice, but there is something that can be done about the problem associated with out-dated screening techniques. A new era in medicine is truly becoming a reality and it has the potential to save countless numbers of lives. It is accomplished by undergoing a simple blood test. That’s right, all you have to do is allow your blood to be drawn. It might be the most important thing you ever do. When a person suffers a heart attack or virtually any other kind of injury to the heart muscle, a bio-marker called troponin is released into the bloodstream. Doctors can determine not only if you’ve had a heart attack by looking for troponin, but how severe the heart attack was. This effectively gives them concrete evidence concerning the overall health of your heart. In short, it gives them a good idea of how much damage has already been done.
As it turns out, that same bio-marker can be detected in people that have never had a heart attack, but do have some type of heart disease. This is how it works. When your heart is struggling because of conditions like atherosclerosis, the muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen and blood because major cardiac arteries are partially blocked. A heart attack occurs when those arteries become completely occluded. That being said, the heart begins struggling to keep up with the demands of the body long before that, at least in most cases. Evidence of ischemic heart disease, where the heart is not getting enough blood, is often an important marker for a potential future heart attack. As the heart struggles to function with less blood and oxygen than it really needs, changes occur within the heart muscle itself. These changes cause troponin to be released into the bloodstream, effectively telling your doctors that there is a potentially serious issue that needs to be addressed right away.
Early Treatment Really Does Save Lives
The goal is to start treating people who have troponin in their bloodstream before a heart attack occurs. By making changes to their diet, getting more exercise, and stopping habits related to drinking and smoking, it is possible to stop the damage to the heart from getting any worse. In some cases, it can even be reversed. It is equally important to limit stress, get enough rest, and see your doctor regularly in order to monitor your condition. In more serious cases, medications can be prescribed to help keep things under control. In some rare instances, surgery is performed to address the situation before a heart attack occurs.
Testing as Part of a Comprehensive Healthy Lifestyle
Many people think that if they don’t have any symptoms, there is nothing wrong with their heart. However, this is not always true. In a surprising number of cases, there is evidence of substantial heart disease in someone who has never reported any symptoms. This simple screening technique can find a potential problem long before you notice anything amiss. The truth is, you may be putting your health at serious risk if you wait until you’re having chest pain, shortness of breath or missed beats in order to make an appointment. That pain in your chest, along with those odd rhythms, is your heart’s way of telling you that something is seriously wrong. In other words, the damage is already happening and it’s going to get worse if you don’t do something about it.
You already know it’s important to keep a close eye on your blood pressure and watch your weight. However, that may not be enough. Adding this simple blood test to your annual physical is one of the best ways to get an accurate measurement of the health of your heart. It could save your life.