Why "Just in Case" Heart Tests Might Just Be a Bad Idea

by Colin Carmichael

Any heart test that can spot a potential cardiovascular problem is a good idea, right?

CT Scan

Do you really need advanced heart tests?

Many take these tests everyday "just in case" and to be extra safe.

Well, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) suggests otherwise.

The ACC has released it's list of "commonly used but not always necessary tests and procedures".

The ACC's recommendations center around high tech cardiac imaging in situations where the results are unlikely to uncover anything that will change or benefit the patients treatment.

Stress cardiac imaging and advanced noninvasive imaging tests are among the tests that may be unnecessary, especially for those otherwise healthy and with no adverse cardiac symptoms.

What are some of the risks associated with these tests?

Radiation

We're constantly being told that the levels of radiation are low and inconsequential for many of these tests, but are they warning you about the cumulative effect of all this radiation exposure?

Our everyday exposure to radiation is at an all-time high with common items such as laptops, cell phones and microwaves.

Then consider that the number of CT scans tripled from 1996 to 2010, and the amount of radiation on each scan also increased during that time … and it's easy to see how this is becoming a serious health risk.

The connection between CT scans and increased cancer risk is now so strong that researchers are looking for ways to reduce the amount of radiation exposure while still providing a high enough quality image to make a proper diagnosis.

False Positives

Another downfall that's not always properly communicated to patients is that these aren't 100% foolproof diagnostic tools. What if your tests shows your heart is functioning abnormally, when in truth, it's perfectly fine?

That leads to even more testing and possibly, starting a treatment protocol that's completely unnecessary.

And what about the extra stress that accompanies a false positive? And stress is without argument one of the worst factors for heart disease.

Expense

These tests aren't cheap. And even if you have a great insurance plan that covers most or even all the costs … ultimately it's a cost we all bear with higher premiums.

Many of these unnecessary and unneeded heart tests are being done because uneducated patients are insisting these tests be performed … you know …
"just in case."

It's always refreshing to see good common sense advice get promoted from inside the mainstream medical community. And I like what Dr. Thomas Lee, co-editor of the Harvard Heart Letter has to say about this…

"If someone is feeling fine, we're not going to make them feel better or live longer. I always tell patients to take the money they would have spent on a test and join a health club or buy healthier food."

Sounds like good advice to me.

Remember, just because you have so-called high cholesterol, does not mean you're at increased risk for a cardiac risk either. Know how to interpret your numbers and don't get duped into looking at your Total Cholesterol number as some sort of accurate predictor.

References:
> Avoid "just in case" heart tests – Harvard Health Publications (August 2012)
> Cutting Radiation in Medical Tests to Reduce Cancer Risks – WSJ.com (June 18, 2012)


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