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5 heart health tests you may not need

February 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Thanks to technology, Americans have more opportunities to get screened for heart disease thanks to mobile services, health fairs and concierge medicine.

You've always heard "knowledge is key," but be careful of what you do with that knowledge. Here are five health tests you may not need.

A free screening is a chance to get more information on what's going on in blood vessels, particularly for those with arterial blockage.

For patients with a history of heart disease, or those who don't have symptoms, doctors are questioning the hype behind five heart tests that may not provide the right answers.

"When you're using one of those tests in a population of healthy people, what you wind up with, sadly, statistically, is a lot of false positives that then lead to anxiety, lead to further testing," said Dr. Lawrence O'Connor, Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Besides the carotid ultrasound, other tests in question include electrocardiograms, stress tests, echocardiograms and cardiac CT scans.

While most of them are safe, O'Connor says, "The real concern is that it leads to further testing, which might be invasive."

"They say, 'Look, I'm going to eat whatever I want, my EKG was normal, I can continue living my unhealthy lifestyle, I'm not going to exercise.' And again, what we want to do is not give people false reassurances because they see something normal at that moment in time," said Dr. Juan Silva, White Memorial Medical Center.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises against routine screening for heart disease for people at low risk. Yet anecdotes of people finding something life-threatening keep people testing.

"So if you have buildup we can see around the edge and see how much it's encroaching in on the lumen there," said echocardiography supervisor Keith Williams.

My curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see if I had any buildup in my carotid artery.

"You look beautiful. Looks like you're a 20-year-old all over again," said Williams.

But this shouldn't give me a false sense of security.

"Yes, you can have buildup up higher, but it's very rare that that happens," said Williams. "Yes it does happen, I'm not going to say no."

Cardiologists say to make sure you don't waste money, time or worry, you should start with your doctor first. Give your doctor a complete family history, and get a physical examination. That interview should lead to appropriate testing.

The best way to protect yourself from heart disease may have more to do with lifestyle than technology.