What’s the difference between a heart and vascular exam?

There are many ways to support our hearts, from diet to exercise.

However, when it comes to catching problems early, there is no better resource than heart and vascular screening.

The Difference, Explained
You may be asking yourself, “Aren’t heart and vascular screenings the same thing?”

Alexa Reynolds, chief exercise physiologist at Sanford Health, a screening center in Fargo, North Dakota, says that while they are similar, they are also very different.

Reynolds says heart screenings look at the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Sanford Health’s vascular screening
“We look at their blood pressure. We do a cholesterol screen, check their height and weight, and perform an EKG (electrocardiogram) on their heart to look at heart rate and rhythm,” she says.

“Then, we use a tool called the Framingham score to assess their 10-year risk of heart disease. If our patients are found to be at high risk, which means a 6 percent or higher risk over the next 10 years, then the patient undergoes a CT scan to look at calcium buildup.”

Reynolds explains that vascular screening is essentially an ultrasound of a patient’s neck, abdominal aorta and leg arteries.

“Our vascular technicians are looking for risk of stroke, abdominal aortic aneurysm, varicose veins and reflux,” she says.

Why they’re important
Reynolds says they are different screenings, but equally important.

“Your risk of heart disease and stroke go hand in hand. In some cases, if you have calcium buildup in your heart, you’re likely to have plaque elsewhere in your body as well,” Reynolds said.

Calcium naturally forms in our arteries as we age, she says. That makes annual screenings even more important.

And, despite the pandemic, Reynolds stresses that it’s safe to seek treatment at Sanford Health.

“We really encourage all patients to continue with their annual physicals, visits and maintenance. That includes screenings. We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our patients. We want patients to know they are safe coming into our clinic and that their appointments will be safe as well.”

Preventing problems in the first place
Reynolds says an annual screening is the best way to catch problems early. Prevention is the best medicine, she adds.

“Exercise is like your panacea. It will help lower blood pressure and cholesterol,” she says.

In addition to exercise, Reynolds says the sooner you implement a heart-healthy diet, the better.