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Will You Have a Heart Attack? Four Questions

Image of stethoscope. Checkups with your doctor and lifestyle changes play a key role in heart attack prevention.Heart disease (also called cardiovascular disease) is our country’s leading cause of death. One in three American women will die from some form of the disease, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

So what can you do?

Ask yourself these four questions. We talked to Christopher Kramer, MD, a UVA cardiologist and imaging specialist to get the answers.

1. Do I Need a Screening for Heart Disease?

Everyone, starting at age 20, should know their risk (low, intermediate or high). You can calculate your risk by answering five questions at (you’ll need to know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers).

2. What Screening Tests Are Available?

If your risk is intermediate or high, you’ll probably need to make lifestyle changes like:

  • Exercising more
  • Quitting smoking
  • Lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure

You might also benefit from screening tests that include:

  • Ultrasound to check for plaque buildup in the carotid (neck) arteries
  • Coronary calcium scoring that uses a CT (computed tomography) scan to check for calcium buildup in the heart arteries. This test is useful for someone who has a 10 to 20 percent chance (intermediate) of having a cardiac event in the next 10 years.

3. What Tests Can Pinpoint a Problem if I Have Symptoms or Know I Have Heart Disease?

A cardiologist can help decide which test is best for you, but here’s a quick overview of the main imaging tools:

Echocardiography, or ultrasound: Helps doctors assess the structure and function of the heart and see if there are any leaks and blockages. It’s also used during a stress test, which involves walking on a treadmill or taking medicine to simulate exercise, while heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored

Nuclear Imaging: Uses radioactive substances and a special camera to help doctors see how blood is flowing to the heart muscle. It includes PET (position emission tomography) or SPECT (single-photo emission computed tomography) scans. UVA just got a cardiac PET that’s also good at assessing damage to heart muscle caused by a heart attack.

CT (Computed Tomography) Angiography: Uses radiation and an injection of dye to let doctors look inside the coronary arteries. It also helps rule out coronary artery disease in patients who have symptoms like chest pain

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Used for patients with advanced heart disease. It’s good at uncovering damage from a silent heart attack and finding the causes of heart failure.

4. What Does UVA Offer for Screening and Treatment of Heart Disease?

  • We have the expertise and our cardiologists and imaging specialists work together to treat patients.
  • We have every advanced imaging method available.
  • We do a lot of research to find new ways of looking at the heart and blood vessels.

Because of this, we can develop a treatment plan that’s right for each patient.

Remember that most often, treatment doesn’t include an invasive procedure.

It’s about prevention, including lifestyle changes and medication that’s carefully chosen and monitored.

If your risk for heart disease is caught early, UVA’s Heart Center can help you make those changes before it’s too late.

Have you taken the heart disease risk assessment? Did it inspire you to make changes in your life? Let us know.

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