What heart screenings can identify my risk of heart disease?

Do you have a family history of heart disease (cardiovascular disease) or have you been told you are at risk for developing it in the future? If so, it is important to know which screening tests can help you identify the risk factors you have.

Do you have a family history of heart disease (cardiovascular disease) or have you been told you are at risk for developing it in the future? If so, it is important to know which screening tests can help you identify the risk factors you have. Some risk factors of heart disease, such as quality of your diet, physical activity level, body mass index (BMI), weight circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol level, can be reduced by modifying your lifestyle. So even if you have been considered high risk in the past, you can manage your risk and reduce your chance of developing heart disease in the future.

During a physical exam, your Mercy Health doctor will take basic health measurements such as your weight, waist circumference and blood pressure. If he or she suspects you are at risk, your doctor may order other screening tests to evaluate further.

Screening tests to monitor your heart health include:

Blood Pressure Screening

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you are at greater risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke. Although more than 30 percent of adults suffer from high blood pressure, many may not even know they have. Most people with high blood pressure do not experience symptoms, which makes it crucial to have regular blood pressure screenings.

Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. Patients with blood pressure higher than this number can make lifestyle adjustments or be treated with medication to manage the condition. Your Mercy Health doctor will start regularly screening you as early as 18. If you don’t have high blood pressure, he or she will take a reading at each visit. If you do have high blood pressure, you will be closely monitored until it is consistently under 120/80 mmHg for an extended period.

Learn more about high blood pressure.

Cholesterol Screening

Patients who have high cholesterol are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease at some point in their lives. The good news is that cholesterol can be controlled with medication or lifestyle changes.

If your doctor suspects you may have heart disease, he or she may order a cholesterol test, which is also called a lipid panel or lipid profile, to determine what your cholesterol levels are. A cholesterol test can determine how much plaque is building up on your artery walls, which may eventually lead to blocked arteries and eventually a heart attack or stroke.

If you have normal cholesterol levels, you should be tested every four to six years starting as young as 18. If you have a family history of heart disease or have high cholesterol, your doctor will monitor your condition closely and test more frequently.

Normal cholesterol goals are:

  • Total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol under 100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol at or above 40 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides under 150 mg/dL

Learn more about healthy cholesterol levels.

Body Weight/BMI

Your Mercy Health doctor will take your weight and calculate your BMI at each doctor visit. If your BMI is over 30, you are considered obese and are at greater risk of developing heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke  or atrial fibrillation.

In adults, BMI is a calculation that measures the amount of fat in your body (for most people). Doctors use BMI measurements to calculate a numerical value of your weight compared to others the same gender who are the same height. If you have a BMI under 18.5 kg/m², you are considered underweight. If you are between 18.5 and 26 kg/m² you are in the normal weight category, and a BMI between 25 kg/m² and 29.9 kg/m² is considered overweight.

Learn more about Mercy Health’s weight management programs to help you lose and maintain a healthy weight.

Blood Glucose Test (Blood Sugar Level Screening)

If you have high blood glucose level, which can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at some point in your life. In fact, depending on the age when you are diagnosed, if you have uncontrolled diabetes, your life expectancy can be reduced by 5-15 years. 

Your Mercy Health doctor will recommend a blood glucose screening if you are overweight (BMI  between 25 kg/m² and 29.9 kg/m²) and have another heart disease risk factor.  If you are at risk of developing diabetes, your doctor will begin screening regularly at age 45 and repeating the tests every 3 years.

Lifestyle Screenings 

Your Mercy Health doctor will discuss smoking, your diet and exercise level at every annual physical. If you are at risk of developing heart disease and are not scheduling regular physicals, schedule an appointment to discuss treatments to help you quit smoking, improve your diet and improve your physical activity habits. It is never too late to reduce your risk of heart disease by modifying your lifestyle. Even if you are 60 years old and decide to quit smoking, you could increase your life expectancy up to three years.


Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) 

An electrocardiogram, also known as an EKG or ECG, is a noninvasive diagnostic test used to detect heart problems. During an ECG, electrodes are attached to your body to detect the electrical activity in the heart.
Your doctor may order an EKG or ECG when you have any of the following heart symptoms:
  • Arrhythmias   - Irregular heart rhythm
  • Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack  potentially caused by blocked arteries
  • Abnormal symptoms in the heart’s chambers or valves

Stress Test

Mercy Health offers a variety of stress tests to diagnose heart disease. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and risk factors and determine the most appropriate test(s) for you. 

  • Exercise stress test - An exercise stress test, also referred to as a treadmill test, can help diagnose coronary artery disease, determine a safe exercise level and determine cause for some symptoms. During this test, you are instructed to walk on a treadmill while attached to a heart monitor. The monitor will help your doctor evaluate your heart function.
  • Exercise perfusion stress test - An exercise perfusion stress test is similar to an exercise stress test with the exception that radioactive tracers are used to measure blood flow to the heart. The tracers help monitor how your blood flows while you are exercising.
  • Nuclear stress test - A nuclear stress test is similar to an exercise perfusion stress test except instead of using exercise to raise your heart rate, your doctor uses IV medications. When the ideal heart rate is reached, your doctor will inject a radioactive tracer to monitor the flow of blood under exertion.
  • Echocardiography - An echocardiography can evaluate your heart chamber and heart valve function. During this test, an echocardiogram ultrasound of the heart is performed during exercise and while you are resting.

Holter Monitoring

Your doctor may recommend wearing a Holter monitor, or portable EKG device, to obtain a record of your heart’s activity if you are experiencing irregular heartbeats. A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s activity during your daily activities for 24 to 48 hours.

Because abnormal heart rhythms can come and go at unpredictable times, a Holter monitor can evaluate your heartbeat over time as you perform everyday tasks.

Scheduling an Appointment

If you are looking for general screenings to assess you heart disease risk, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose level tests, search for a Mercy Health primary care provider near you.

If you are looking for a cardiologist for more advanced heart testing, learn more about our heart and vascular care today.


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