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You go to the doctor every year for an all-around checkup, but what about a heart health checkup? Regular heart health checkups are important for monitoring and maintaining your cardiovascular well-being. But when should you go beyond your annual checkup with your primary care physician to get a heart health checkup? There are several factors to consider, let’s look at some general guidelines for when you should get a heart health checkup.

Age Factors

As you develop and age, so does your heart. Key age brackets provide general guidelines for ideal heart health and issues to watch for at every decade of your life.

In Your 20s

You want to pay attention to your heart health from an early age. Your first heart health checkup serves as a baseline heart health assessment, providing base scores for blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall cardiovascular health. Your doctor should also assess any risk factors, such as family history of heart disease, and lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and smoking, that could contribute to heart issues.

In Your 30s

If you have established a normal baseline for your cardiovascular health and have no risk factors, your doctor may recommend getting a heart health checkup every four to six years until age 40. If you do have risk factors, your doctor may order regular or new screenings, such as blood glucose levels for prediabetes. Based on your baseline numbers, you will continue monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels and make any necessary adjustments to your lifestyle to lower your risk for developing heart disease.

In Your 40s

Once you hit your 40s, new screenings will be added and your doctor may recommend more frequent checkups, especially if you have elevated risk factors. If you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or other cardiac issues, this is the decade when those can start to appear. If you have not had a blood glucose level check yet because of health factors, you will get one in this decade. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend age 45, while the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening of blood glucose levels as part of diabetes screening start at age 40.

In Your 50s

This decade is a particularly important time for women to watch for changes in their cardiovascular health. The average age for menopause is 52, and the hormonal changes that occur during menopause can bring increased cardiovascular risk in the form of higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in postmenopausal women worldwide, with premenopausal women having a lower incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD), the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries leading to heart attack or stroke. With this increase in cardiovascular disease in women after menopause, regular screenings become especially important as women age.

In Your 60s and Beyond

Besides continuing to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, your doctor may perform additional cardiovascular tests based on your health as you age. A coronary artery calcium CT scan (or CAC test) can measure the amount of calcium in your arteries. Higher amounts of calcium are associated with higher plaque buildup, and therefore, more severe coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association recommends a CAC for women ages 60 to 80 and men ages 55 to 80 with few risk factors. Your doctor may also make recommendations on modifications to exercise, diet, and medications so you can continually adapt your heart healthy lifestyle as you age.

Risk Factors

Regardless of age, the frequency and type of tests needed in your heart health checkup depends on your risk factors for developing heart disease. By uncovering and monitoring your risk factors, your heart health checkup can help you prevent heart disease before it starts. If it is determined you have specific risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose levels, and/or a family history of heart disease, your doctor may want you to have more frequent checkups or additional tests. For example, individuals with an estimated 10-year risk for developing heart disease between 5% and 7.5%, and risk factors that increase their chances of heart disease may be recommended for a CAC test as early as age 40.

Existing Health Conditions

While risk factors may require monitoring and determine the frequency of your checkups, certain existing health conditions can almost guarantee you an annual heart health checkup.
If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition, such as heart failure, congenital heart defect, or arrhythmia, you’re probably already seeing a cardiologist for regular heart checkups and monitoring.

Additionally, chronic conditions and diseases not specific to your heart can lead to heart issues as the disease progresses or the condition is not kept in check. These conditions can include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Thyroid disorders, as the thyroid hormone affects heart and blood vessel function.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, as inflammation may affect the heart and blood vessels.
  • Sleep apnea, which can contribute to hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and other heart issues.
  • Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue of the body and organs.
  • Mental health disorders, as studies have shown the negative impact of trauma, depression, anxiety, and stress on the heart.

New Symptoms

Certain new symptoms you experience may signal that you need a heart health checkup or additional tests. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or palpitations, contact your doctor. They may want to see you immediately to check your heart and schedule additional tests, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a stress test.

An EKG captures your heart’s electrical activity, assessing heart rhythm, indicating how blood is flowing to your heart muscle, and showing any abnormal electrical conduction. A stress test shows how well your heart works when it is pumping hard and can indicate if there is a lack of blood supply to the heart, as well as if symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing are related to your heart. The results can indicate if you’ve started developing heart disease, and if so, how severe it is.

Now is a Great Time to Schedule Your Heart Health Checkup

Even with no risk factors, pre-existing conditions, or new symptoms, it is good to have regular heart health checkups to monitor your cardiovascular health. If you have not had a heart health checkup in a while (or never!), there is no better time than the present to get your checkup scheduled. Because the sooner you start monitoring your heart health, the healthier your heart will be!

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