COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - How is your heart? This question is not for those who are sick. It's for the healthy who could have a problem but don't know it. At what point do you -- as a person who rarely gets sick but may have a symptom or two -- need to go to the doctor?
Inside the cath lab at Lexington Medical Center, Dr. Amy Epps of Lexington Cardiology is performing a procedure on a woman who knew she had a heart problem. But what if you're fairly healthy and rarely get sick but on occasion, you have a goofy symptom or two like a heart flutter or low or high heart rate?
Dr. Epps says healthy people without risk factors and who are not smokers can use every life milestone to get a check on their heart.
"Maybe at 20 and then maybe at 30, you should definitely know what your blood pressure is. You should know what your cholesterol is. And then when you get into your 30s, you really need to think about your family history," Epps said. "By 40, you really need to kind of know your vital signs. In other words your blood pressure, your resting heart rate, you should be exercising so you really need to know what might bring out goofy little symptoms and what makes it better, what makes it worse."
At a certain age, women get a mammogram. Men get a prostate exam. And at a certain age, both undergo a colonoscopy. Should there at a certain age be a test for heart disease? Epps thinks so.
Epps says a healthy person can have heart-related symptoms that seem concerning, but really are just benign.
"In women, it typically can be hormonal changes that start about in the 40s, maybe even earlier. That can make your heart flutter or race or get low or make you tired," Epps said. "It's very common for different times of the day, different types of stressful situations, whether you're at work or you're at home for your heart rate and your blood pressure to be up and down all day long. That's pretty normal, actually. It's also fairly normal for your heart rate to have a little skip to it even if you don't feel that. Sometimes that's a sign of a good, healthy heart."
In addition to the basic tests like blood pressure, heart rate, EKG, and treadmill, Epps says there's another simple procedure that tells a lot.
"What is a very good, helpful test that should be used appropriately would be something like a Calcium Score CAT scan of your heart," Epps said. "And what that is a non-contrasted CAT scan of your chest. Very quick, no dye, no IV; it takes about five minutes for them to do in Radiology. And it just sort of gives you a snapshot in the heart to see if there's any plaque in there and that will light up under the camera and we'll see it."
The test would be done at the age of 40 and if a good reading, then every eight to 10 years down the road. She calls it the heart's mammogram.
Dr. Epps says often times healthy people, despite some symptoms, don't go to the doctor because they don't want to come across as a hypochondriac. But it's better to check your heart so your mind is at peace.
As far as getting tested on milestone birthdays, Dr. Epps reminds you if you smoke, then all that's off the table. Smoking cigarettes increases your chances of heart disease that you have to listen to the smallest of clues. And if you have any little twinges, blips, or a fast heart rate, it really is important to get that checked immediately.