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Signs Of Heart Disease When There Are No Obvious Symptoms
A Calcium Score screening is a CT scan of the heart for hardened arteries. A score of Zero means they found no calcium.

Certain physical symptoms may signal heart disease, but its not always clear. An intervention cardiologist talked with KERA Vital Signs host Sam Baker about clues that may indicate you have heart disease when you don’t have symptoms.

Dr. Jeffrey Schussler, an intervention cardiologist with Baylor, Scott and White, said the first thing to consider is your family history and any risk factors you may have.

Interview Highlights

Family History And Risk Factors

So if everybody in your family died of a heart attack before age 50, it’s not a bad idea to do some preventive, either evaluation or treatment. Likewise, if you have other risk factors: hypertension, diabetes, if you use tobacco — if you have these risk factors, then you should probably be thinking you could be someone with heart disease.

A Good Test For Coronary Disease

If you're worried about coronary disease there's at least one very good screening test that can be done: a coronary calcium score. It’s actually a CT scan of the heart for hardened arteries. Very low dose radiation. Zero means they found no calcium. Having a number that’s not zero is actually actionable. Specifically, putting them on cholesterol medicine like statins is really helpful for preventing future events.

Traditional, Less Effective Methods

  • Stress tests: In the past, people have said they want to check their heart and asked for a stress test. Truth is, if you’re telling me you can exercise and you feel fine, doing a stress test doesn’t necessarily add more information, and stress tests themselves are somewhat flawed.
  • EKG test: EKG’s are very good if you come to me and say I’m having chest pain right this second, it can often identify if you’re having a heart attack — not always, but often. What they’re bad at is telling you if you’re going to have one tomorrow.

Why Heart Disease Can Be Hard To Find

It can be very silent until it causes a problem. You can actually deal with quite a bit of blockage in your arteries. Up to 75% of an artery can narrowed before the reduction in the blood flow causes symptoms, causes chest pain.

The Takeaway

  • Know your family medical history and risk factors
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a reasonable diet
  • There’s no need from a cardiovascular standpoint for vitamins and supplements. Needed nutrients will come from fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet.

The American Heart Association Recommends Testing:

  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Cholesterol: A fasting lipoprotein profile should be taken every four to six years, starting at age 20. This is a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Weight/Body Mass Index (BMI): Obesity creates higher risk for problems such as heart disease, stroke, atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.
  • Blood Sugar: High blood sugar levels put you at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Untreated, diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke. Your blood sugar (glucose) should be tested at least every three years.
  • Discuss smoking, physical activity, diet: You should talk with your doctor about these at each regular healthcare visit. If you smoke, ask for help in quitting.


Heart Disease

Early Detection of Heart Disease

Simple Ways to Check Your Heart Health

Heart Disease: Diagnosis

What is a Silent Heart Attack?

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.