Health Features

Listen to Your Heart

If you think you might be at risk for heart disease, it’s best not to wait and wonder. It’s never a bad time to visit your doctor and talk about family history, lifestyle changes and cardiovascular tests that could help you avoid problems down the road.

Town&Style Parent Trap columnist Dr. Tim Jordan knows the value of preventive testing firsthand. Several months ago, he decided to have a coronary artery calcium scan at Frontenac Cardiovascular Center. The outcome was surprising, and his forward thinking probably saved his life. “I wasn’t having any symptoms, but I decided to check on my coronary arteries because I’m at summer camps each year in 100-degree heat, climbing hills and doing other strenuous activities,” he says. “My scan showed an extremely high, abnormal calcium score, so I had a stress test echocardiogram and saw cardiologist Dr. Anthony Pearson.”

Jordan’s stress test was normal, but CT scans and cardiac catheterization turned up serious problems: an aortic valve defect, congenital cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) and an aortic aneurysm. Days after his initial test, he checked into Missouri Baptist Medical Center for complex surgery, including two coronary artery bypasses, aneurysm repair and valve replacement. The surgeon also had to remove some tissue from his left ventricle and septum. “It was surreal to find out I had all of these issues when I never actually felt bad,” Jordan notes.

He has since returned to his counseling practice, daily activities and regular exercise and says he feels great (and fortunate). “The lesson people should take from my experience is this: Trust your gut and pay attention to your heart, even if you feel OK,” he says. “My aneurysm might have ruptured at any moment, and that could have been disastrous.”

what is a coronary artery calcium scan?
Dr. Omar Almousalli of Frontenac Cardiovascular Center says the test provides imaging of the heart to show the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries around it. If there is buildup, the patient may need further evaluation, medication or other treatment. Adults don’t need a referral to have the test done at the center, he notes.

pay attention!
Heart disease can strike at any age. If you or a doctor notice the symptoms below in your infant or child, set a course of action in place.

1. Heart murmur. Blood causes specific sounds as it moves through the heart. If your child’s doctor hears a murmur during an exam, it may mean blood flow is constricted.

2. Heart arrhythmia. An irregular heartbeat can be caused by sickness or dehydration, but it also can signal more serious problems.

3. Feeding and growth problems. If your child’s heart isn’t functioning normally, he or she may need to take in more calories than normal, and that can lead to weight or physical development issues.

4. Breathing difficulties. Heart defects can cause breathing problems and reduce the body’s ability to process oxygen.

Source: Ascension Health