Because atherosclerosis usually has no noticeable symptoms, it can be hard to detect in early stages. There are many diagnostic tests involved when trying to determine whether or not someone has signs of atherosclerosis, and to what extent. Oftentimes there are no symptoms or risk factors, so a family practitioner or internist might not be too concerned, especially if the patient is not elderly. However, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and early detection is crucial. Nearly 50% of all cardiovascular events occur in patients who were asymptomatic before the event.
Blood pressure and blood may both be normal but someone can still be at risk and not be aware. The Max Pulse is a quick, non-invasive, and inexpensive way to get a better “snapshot” as to what might be going on in the arteries and can be included in a regular check-up. Additionally, it is an effective tool in diabetes management and for use on anyone else who is at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Max Pulse measures blood at the fingertip, but it graphs the heart beat as it moves through both systolic and diastolic pressures. The more flexible the arteries are, the more deviations will show on the graph. If the graph is tight and more regular, it can be an indication that the arteries are stiff. This device also looks at circulation results for large and small arteries. If the test indicates that the larger arteries are constricting and appear to be hardened, then this is a red flag and further testing would be indicated.
Other testing can be done in the office to determine cardiovascular risk include:
- Ankle/Brachial Index – a non-invasive test which measures the difference in pulse rates taken in the ankles against pulse rates taken in the arm. If the pulse is slower in the ankle, this can be an indication that blood is not circulating in the legs like it should. This is most used to test for PAD.
- EKG (Electrocardiogram) – measures electrical activity, heart rate, rhythm, and strength and timing of the signals. This can show whether or not a person has had a prior heart attack and also show signs of heart disease or abnormalities with regards to the heart, but less so for atherosclerosis.
If more serious issues are detected, then the patient is usually referred to a cardiologist for additional testing such as:
- Stress test – The EKG is done while the patient is placed under physical stress to determine how the heart reacts under more rigorous conditions. Usually this is done while running on a treadmill, however if someone is unable to complete this task due to physical limitations, then medications can be given which will increase the heart rate. Images can be taken of the heart while the stress test is under way which can possibly show blockages. The patient is monitored during the test for shortness of breath and/or chest pain.
- EBCT, or Electron Beam Computed Tomography – this is a CAT scan done on the heart directly and shows the amount of calcium build-up which can be an indicator of plaque build-up. Hardening and narrowing of the large arteries may also show on this test.
- Carotid Artery Ultrasound – this provides a look via ultrasound to determine if any plaque build-up, atherosclerosis, exists in the carotid. This test is helpful in predicting risk for possible stroke or heart attack.
- Echocardiography – uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. It shows both the size and shape of the heart which can indicate how it is functioning and can provide insight if any of the valves have any issues. Blood flow is also observed.
- Angiography – this is an invasive procedure that is usually done in the hospital. A thin catheter is put inside the leg and threaded up through the branching arteries to the heart. A dye is then injected which shows the arteries and whether or not any blockages exist. This test does carry some risk and is usually only used when is a person is confirmed to have existing atherosclerosis or, is exhibiting symptoms that a heart attack has happened or is occurring. This is frequently used when someone presents themselves in an emergent condition and allows the doctor to quickly diagnose life-threatening cardiovascular issues.
With cardiovascular death being the number one killer in America, it is important to monitor and detect risks so that prevention tactics can be implemented as soon as possible. The Max Pulse is a helpful tool for this kind of screening as it is easy to use, quick and noninvasive.