Cardiovascular Screening

Cardiovascular screenings help identify problems in your major arteries before symptoms even appear, reducing your risk for heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, heart disease and other serious conditions.

Some of the more common cardiovascular screenings are for:

  • Abdominal aorta for aneurysm
  • Carotid arteries for stroke prevention
  • Peripheral arteries (legs)

Abdominal Aorta for Aneurysm (AAA) Screening

The abdominal aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and the main artery that begins in the heart. Abdominal aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and usually without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms will never rupture. Many start small and stay small, although many expand over time. Others expand quickly. Predicting how fast an abdominal aortic aneurysm may enlarge is difficult.

Many abdominal aortic aneurysms are diagnosed during a routine physical exam, or during tests for other symptoms, such as chest or abdominal pain. The most common test used to detect an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a painless and non-invasive procedure using ultrasound that measures the size of this major artery. Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) is used if a more detailed view is required.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Should I Get a Screening Test?

Discover if you are at higher risk and if a screening is right for you.

Schedule a Heart/Cardiovascular Screening Near You

Screenings are important to your heart health and could lead to early detection and treatment of heart disease.

Carotid Artery Screening

Carotid arteries are usually narrowed by a buildup of plaque — made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances that circulate in the bloodstream. Early diagnosis and treatment of a narrowed carotid artery can decrease stroke risk.

A carotid ultrasound is performed to test for narrowed carotid arteries. During this test, these arteries are visualized using high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) for evidence of plaque. Your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound if you have medical conditions that increase the risk of stroke, including:

In its early stages, carotid artery disease often doesn't produce any signs or symptoms. The condition may go unnoticed until it's serious enough to deprive your brain of blood, causing a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Peripheral Artery Disease Screening

Peripheral artery disease is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs.

When you develop peripheral artery disease (PAD), your extremities — usually your legs — don't receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking (claudication). Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain, as well as your legs.

Some of the tests your doctor may rely on to diagnose peripheral artery disease are:

  • Physical exam. Your doctor may find signs of PAD during a physical examination, such as a weak or absent pulse below a narrowed area of your artery, whooshing sounds over your arteries that can be heard with a stethoscope, evidence of poor wound healing in the area where your blood flow is restricted and decreased blood pressure in your affected limb.
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI). This test compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. To get a blood pressure reading, your doctor uses a regular blood pressure cuff and a special ultrasound device to evaluate blood pressure and flow. You may walk on a treadmill and have readings taken before and immediately after exercising to capture the severity of the narrowed arteries during walking.
  • Ultrasound. Special ultrasound imaging techniques, such as Doppler ultrasound, can help your doctor evaluate blood flow through your blood vessels and identify blocked or narrowed arteries.

Randy Brown, MD, Discusses Cardiovascular Screenings

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