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3 tests to help predict heart attack risk

April 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Blood pressure checks and cholesterol tests can paint a picture of your heart health, and you may even have had a stress tests and an electrocardiograph, but that may not be enough.

Experts say three new tests can be quite helpful in predicting your heart attack risk.

For example, Wayne Davis, whose cholesterol was off the charts, exercises every day to stay in shape.

"I have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol," he said. "My LDL, undesirable cholesterol, was above 250."

It should be below 100.

Davis has taken statins for years, but Dr. Vijay Nambi suggested something new: a calcium score done with a simple CT scan of the heart.

"It gives you the amount of calcium build-up in your heart arteries," Nambi said.

Calcified plaque can show up 20 years before a heart attack.

Another test worth having is advanced lipid testing, which measures the concentration of bad cholesterol particles in your blood.

"Why it's not routinely offered is because it has not found its way into our national guidelines yet," Nambi said.

Dr. Christie Ballantyne says it measures a certain type of hereditary cholesterol called LPA. High levels boost your heart attack risk by 15 percent.

"If you're having lots of heart attacks and strokes in your family, I think it's very worthwhile to know this," Ballantyne said.

A carotid intimal medial thickness test should also be considered.

The 15-minute ultrasound of the neck arteries can detect abnormal thickening, which may signal early heart disease.

Wayne's calcium score is over 1,200. A normal score is zero. So he's quadrupled his statin dose and knows he's healthier for it.

Genetic testing can also give information on heart disease and heart attack risk, but both doctors said it's not ready for the general public just yet.

They do believe, however, genetic testing could play a significant role in the future of heart disease testing.