February is American Heart Month, but really anytime is a good time to take stock of your heart health.
To show everyone how important and simple it is, I decided to go for my own cardiac risk assessment.
I have a bit of time left until I'm 58 -- the age when my father died of a heart attack -- but because I think I'm in good health, I'm actually the perfect person to have my ten year cardiac risk checked, so I have time to correct any problems we might find.
I sat down with Dr. Karthik Ananth, a Henry Ford Hospital cardiologist.
"The goal of the Heart Smart Screening Program is mainly to identify individuals who are apparently healthy who may be at risk or who may be concerned about the risk for future cardiovascular disease," said Ananth.
To check my own health, and see what's involved, I went through the program.
It starts with registration and filling out a detailed questionnaire about lifestyle, exercise, eating habits and other risk factors.
The next step is a special ultrasound of the carotid artery in my neck. This is a unique element. By measuring the thickness of the wall of the artery, it is possible to calculate a "vascular age," which may be different than your chronological age.
"If the thickness of the wall is much higher than expected for your age, that may be an early marker for future heart disease," explained Ananth.
After this, a standard EKG is done, looking for any electrical changes in your heart that may indicate an early problem.
Next comes your height and weight. I discover I've gotten smaller and fatter. Not exactly what I was hoping for!
Waist measurements are also entered into your risk profile, along with your resting heart rate and blood pressure.
The blood testing done is through a painless finger stick, and the results of your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar are immediately available.
Once all the information is collected, a cardiologist immediately reviews it, prepares a detailed report and meets with you the same day to discuss the findings and make recommendations.
For me, the news is good.
"In your case, your risk of heart disease is still extremely low," said Ananth. "It's only 3 percent, very minimally elevated."
But that isn't always the case.
"This actually in many ways serves as an eye-opener for patients who have not seen a doctor," said Ananth. "They say, 'You know, I've been healthy all my life, so let me just go and get checked.'"
When they find out what their real risk is, they have an opportunity to fix it before it's too late.
The screening program costs $99. It's important to point out, it's not designed for people with known heart disease. It's intended for healthy people, mainly between age 40 and 65, who want a snapshot of their possible cardiac future.
To learn more about the Heart Smart Screening Program, click here.
To take an interactive online screening, click here.