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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

3 Simple Tests to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

March 11, 2019

Recently reported in People Magazine, Erica Kane of Pine Valley* suffered a heart attack in October of 2018. As I read the article, it didn’t surprise me that she never mentioned being tested for heart disease before the attack. Obviously, her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties. Looking at this information in black and white, it seems incredulous that her doctor had never ordered a Coronary Calcium Score to help gauge her risk.  And, once she had that number, she also needed a Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT) to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of our necks. This simple, and painless, test can let doctors know if there is any thickening in the artery walls long before we might experience any symptoms of a cardiac incident. If the results of the CIMT are concerning, further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound, an ultrasound for the blood vessels and the heart to see blood flow through the vessels and heart, a MRI Angiogram or MRA which allows doctors to see inside the blood vessels, or a Cardiac CT Scan, which produces dye-free multiple x-ray images of the heart and blood vessels, will give defining information about the state of our arteries and risk level for a heart attack. Even beginning with a simple stress test, doctors can get an idea of the condition of our hearts and whether some or all of the above tests are needed. 

All this begs the question, why didn’t Erica Kane’s doctor order any of these, especially with a history of heart disease in her family? I have some history of heart disease in my family, and since I reached mid-life, my doctor orders both a coronary calcium score and a CIMT every time I have a physical. I don’t want to put Erica’s doctor on the defensive, but even today in 2019, women are far less likely to receive the same care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment. In a landmark study done in Sweden over a ten-year period, 2003-2013, involving almost sixty-one thousand women, the researchers found this to be true. I watched my mother languish in a recovery facility, virtually ignored by her (male) physician after undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery. During that stay, she suffered from a host of easily avoidable complications due to basic negligence. I tried to intervene on her behalf, but since I was the baby in the family, no one would listen to me.

The anger I feel as I write these words is almost uncontainable, but the above study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, makes one thing absolutely certain: We must take control of our own health and ASK, or more likely in most cases, DEMAND, that at least once, more if results merit it, we have our coronary calcium scores taken, and for sure, have a CIMT test, especially if heart disease runs in the family. If the results are good, the peace of mind is worth it. If the tests show issues, you can do what is necessary so that you will never be like Erica, out shopping one day and then suddenly feel as if an elephant has just sat down on your chest.

 Until next time….Be Vibrant!

*Susan Lucci one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

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