Remember at the beginning of the month, when I told you about the heart screening at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta? I wanted to give all my ATL readers information on the well-woman screening during Heart Health Month (February). It only cost $100 and since 90% of women are at risk for heart disease I thought it could be a great source of information for many women.
Piedmont Healthcare invited me to get my own heart screening too. I figured that I’m pretty healthy and had nothing to worry about so why not? I workout. I eat well. I get annual check-ups. I’ve even had several cardiac tests back in my 20’s due to some irregularities picked up during my college basketball days. I’m fine! Sure I could lose some weight, but that was the only thing I was really concerned about that. Little did I know there was more going on!
The heart screening at Piedmont Healthcare goes beyond the typical tests at a normal check up. The time spent with the medical professional (in my case, a nurse practitioner) and the detailed report with specific recommendations also goes beyond what I usually experience. The individualized risk analysis is done right there with some results ready immediately and others within a couple days.
The heart screening included:
- Complete Health History – Family history, pregnancy history, depression scale assessment, sleep evaluation, functional capacity assessment.
- Physical Exam – Screening for circulation abnormalities (ABI), blood pressure, BMI, waist circumference.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) – A test that checks your heart’s electrical activity.
- Labs – Blood sugar, cholesterol panel, high-risk cholesterol markers (Lp(a)), inflammatory markers (CRP).
- Heart Health Report – Recommendations and next steps.
But I’m healthy, right? I’m in my 30’s, right? I don’t eat beef or pork and play tennis several times a week, right? I’m fine…right? Not so fast.
One of the biggest reasons that pushed me to get this heart screening is that I have no family history. I was adopted out of the foster care system and have no biological medical information for either my maternal or paternal side.
I have found and contacted my biological mother who chose to not have a relationship with me. She has never released information regarding her family history nor has she given me information on the identity of my biological father so I could get his medial history. Since the risk of heart disease increases exponentially when there is a family history of it, I figured I need to see if this heart screening could fill in some blanks as it relates to my heart health.
“Both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history,” said William Kraus, M.D., a preventive cardiologist and research scientist at Duke University “If you have a stroke in your family, you are more likely to have one.” (via heart.org)
When I went in for my screening I knew my BMI and waist circumference were not where they needed to be (for my health as well as my jeans size), but I didn’t know that my LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) was also high. Not extremely high but above normal. Since I didn’t have any family history, the nurse practitioner did some additional testing to see if I have the genetic marker for heart disease. If I have it, then the high LDL cholesterol could be problematic. She told me in a no-nonsense way that if I have this genetic marker, I will probably be on high cholesterol medicine within the next 5 years and would need it for the rest of my life. Say what…???
I was advised that if I worked on reducing my weight and waist circumference that would help lower my chances of heart disease but if I had that genetic marker, medicine might be the only way to ensure I didn’t suffer a heart attack before I was 50. Well guess what…
The heart screening found I do have the genetic marker for increased risk of heart disease.
As a result of this heart screening, I now know that most likely my biological mother or father had heart disease running in their family. I now know I am at a higher risk for heart disease and need to be more cognizant of the risk factors I can control. I now know that without medical intervention, I am at a higher risk of dying from a heart attack. But I know these things now. I can do something about them!
Knowledge is power. I am now on a mission to cut back on food and increase activity. I’m watching my sodium, drinking more water, and am more aware of what my cholesterol and blood pressure readings mean for my overall health. I am empowered to live for a long time despite having an increased risk.
I debated about whether I would share these results with you. After all, it is opening myself up to a lot of scrutiny. However, I thought if sharing my story helps one woman get a heart screening, helps one woman ask her doctor about her own heart disease risk, helps one mother get medication to live to see her daughter’s wedding then it would be worth it.
To all the adopted adult children out there, or to those who for one reason or another don’t have access to your biological family’s records, I urge you to get a heart screening or other heath tests to asses the risks you don’t even know about. The choices your biological parents have made do not have to hold you and your health hostage.
While the results of this heart screening were a shock to me, I am not letting them get me down. I’m a fighter and I will not succumb to heart disease. I will not die early. I will not be a victim of my circumstances. I will stand tall in the knowledge that I am taking control of my health. Stand with me, sisters. Fight with me!