Heart & vascular screenings: What’s the difference?

There is a difference in the two screenings, but both are important to your health

Closeup of a man's arm while he gets his blood pressure checked.

From diet to exercise, there are many ways we can support our hearts.

However, when it comes to catching problems early, there’s no better resource than heart and vascular screenings.

The difference, explained

You may be asking yourself, “Aren’t heart and vascular screenings the same thing?”

While they are similar, they’re also very different, says Alexa Reynolds, Sanford Health lead exercise physiologist at the Fargo, North Dakota, Center for Screening.

Reynolds says a heart screening looks at the risk for coronary heart disease.

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“We would be looking at their blood pressure. We run a cholesterol check, we check their height and weight, and do an EKG (electrocardiogram) of their heart to look at rate and rhythm,” she said.

“Then, we use a tool called a Framingham score to assess their 10 year risk for developing heart disease. If our patients are found to be at a high risk, that means 6% or higher for the next 10 years, then the patient does a CT scan, which looks at the calcium build up.”

A vascular screening, Reynolds explains, is essentially an ultrasound of a patient’s arteries in their neck, abdominal aorta, and legs.

“We have vascular techs looking for any risk of stroke, abdominal aortic aneurysm, also varicose veins and reflux,” she said.

Why they’re important

Reynolds says they’re different screenings, but equally important.

“Your risk of heart attack and stroke kind of go hand in hand. In some cases, if you have calcium buildup in the heart, you most likely have plaque somewhere else in your body as well,” Reynolds said.

She says that as we grow older, calcium naturally builds in our arteries. This makes yearly screenings all the more important.

And, despite the pandemic, Reynolds stresses it’s safe to seek care at Sanford Health.

“We’re really encouraging all patients to still continue with their yearly physicals, visits, and maintenance. Screenings are included in that. We’re doing everything we can here to keep our patients safe. We want patients to know they are safe coming into our clinic, and they’re going to be safe their appointments.”

Preventing problems in the first place

Reynolds says yearly screenings are the best way to catch problems early. She adds that prevention is the best medicine.

“Exercise is like your magic pill. It’s going to help with your blood pressure and cholesterol,” she said.

Along with exercise, Reynolds says the earlier you implement a heart-healthy diet, the better.

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Posted In Heart, Vascular

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