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Health

New cardiology screening can help detect, monitor heart conditions

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Amanda Howell, a registered diagnostic sonographer and lead technician in cardiology services at UMMC Grants Ferry, performs a cardiac sonogram on a patient as Dr. Bryan Barksdale, a cardiologist and professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, looks on.

by Ruth Cummins, [email protected]

Some Mississippians know they’re at risk of heart disease due to family history, but others might wonder if their chronic conditions make them prone to cardiovascular problems – or if good health can be deceiving.

A quick and easy cardiology screening can reveal answers to all of those questions, experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say. For the first time, they are offering the screenings at UMMC’s Grants Ferry clinic in Flowood, giving patients peace of mind and the information they need for personalized treatment going forward.

“This is one of the best tests we have for assessing cardiovascular risk, and you don’t have to have symptoms to undergo a screening,” said Dr. Bradley Deere, a cardiologist and assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases.

Dr. Bradley Deere is a cardiologist and assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases.

“This is especially good for people who are uncertain about their overall cardiovascular risk and who want to make good decisions about medications and treatment,” said Deere, the lead physician for the screening program that will begin in early December.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, heart disease is second only to cancer, the CDC says.

Symptoms vary widely from patient to patient, but can include chests pain, tightness and pressure; shortness of breath; pain, numbness, weakness and coldness in the legs or arms; and pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back.

Especially dangerous is atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or ASCVD, Deere said. It’s caused by high levels of” bad” cholesterol in the blood, leading to plaque buildup on the walls of arteries. Over time, that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Those screened at the Grants Ferry clinic, 1010 Lakeland Place in Flowood, have three options, depending on need and choice of pricing, said Amanda Howell, a registered diagnostic sonographer and lead technician on the testing.

All three tiers assess risk for heart disease and build off each other, with the first tier including a coronary artery calcium scan, or CAC, to calculate a calcium-level score; bloodwork to check cholesterol levels; a glucose test to determine blood sugar levels; and blood pressure checks for the presence of hypertension.

“A CAC scan is one of the best available tools to assess cardiovascular risk,” Deere said, including for patients who don’t yet have symptoms. “The goal is to help you and your doctor make better treatment decisions to reduce your risk of ASCVD.”

If testing shows a patient has risk factors for heart disease, they may be referred to a cardiologist or given the option of a second tier of testing that includes all first-tier testing plus an electrocardiogram to check for irregular heartbeat and a body mass index evaluation.

Third-tier testing adds on an ultrasound of the patient’s carotid arteries in the neck to identify any stenosis or plaque buildup and to track blood flow to the brain. The third tier also includes an ankle brachial index test, which compares the blood pressure in the upper and lower limbs to check for stiff peripheral arteries, an indicator of cardiovascular disease; and a scan of the abdominal aorta to look for aneurysms.

Additional testing is available for smokers or those with a history of smoking. Screenings also include a heart risk questionnaire with queries on past heart attack or stroke, incidences of chest pain or shortness of breath, and other symptoms and risk factors.

The testing is competitively priced, with tier one costing $85; tier two, $99; and tier three, $150. The goal is for screenings to take about 15-20 minutes for the first tier and under an hour for the second and third tiers. “We will help guide you if you need help figuring what tier is best for you,” Howell said.

Some people aren’t diagnosed until they’ve had a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. That means screening can make a huge difference in someone’s cardiovascular health.

Anyone with a family history can benefit from screening, Howell said, even a young person with a parent who died of heart disease. Other risk factors are smoking, diabetes, unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, obesity, a diet high in saturated and trans fats, drinking too much alcohol, and lack of physical activity. Heart disease can happen at any age, but the risk goes up as you age.

The testing is separate from a regular provider appointment and an excellent way to be aware of your heart health, Deere said. “It’s a similar approach to screening for prostate or breast cancer.”

“It’s a very cost-effective screening, and it’s a quick and easy way to be preventive in your health care,” Howell said. “Patients might see providers for other health conditions, but never have their heart or other vascular structures checked.”

“Performing this screening at our Grants Ferry clinic makes future care easily accessible,” Howell said. “We have front-row parking, and all screening services are on the first floor. Grants Ferry gives patients the feeling of a small town clinic while offering all of the advanced care of UMMC.

“Patients can become familiar with our faces so when they follow up with our cardiology and vascular providers, they will be followed by the same faces for treatment.”

Patients can call 601-815-4321 now to make an appointment, said Alli Pitre, program administrator at UMMC’s University Heart and lead project manager for the screening program.

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