A doctor examining a patient.Share on Pinterest
Health experts say preventative heart screenings are the best way to evaluate your heart heath and identify any potential risks early. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Standard testing at your primary care doctor can evaluate your heart health.
  • With screening and lifestyle changes, it’s possible to improve your heart health.
  • Experts share top preventive heart screenings to prioritize in 2024.

As 2024 approaches and you think about goals related to wellness, it’s a good time to prioritize your heart health.

Screenings are the best way to evaluate your heart, said Dr. Christopher Tanayan, sports cardiologist at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.

“Particularly for those who are [over] 35 years old and have strong family history of heart disease,” he told Healthline.

However, heart screening may be different for different subgroups of the population.

“For instance, heart screening of competitive athletes may involve tests like an ECG and echo with a different set of criteria whereas someone who is generally healthy getting into their midlife years may just need bloodwork,” said Tanayan.

Not sure which screenings make the most sense for you? Experts break down the top seven.

Medical history

Your primary care doctor, internist or general practitioner will gather a medical history, which includes your family history of medical conditions and your lifestyle practices, such as diet, exercise, and substance use.

“This is probably the most basic but most cost-effective screening tool we have because it’s (a) cheap (b) easy to perform (c) non-invasive, no blood draws and (d) provides so much insight to clinicians on what’s the next best step,” said Tanayan.

For instance, if you smoke, Dr. Roger Blumenthal, spokesperson for the AHA and director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, said your doctor will prioritize guidance on helping you quit.

“We try to use nicotine replacement therapy like patches or gum or medications like bupropion and varenicline. Also, behavior modification plays a key role,” he said.

Body weight and BMI

By measuring your waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), your doctor can gauge if you have overweight or obesity, which increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and more.

“BMI [is a] non-invasive measurement during an office visit,” said Tanayan. “Losing weight significantly impacts blood pressure control, sleep apnea, insulin resistance, ability to exercise.”

Blood pressure reading

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Because high blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, many people don’t know they have it until they are monitored for it.

The American Heart Association (AHA) states that people whose blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, should get it checked at least once every two years, starting at age 20. Those who have blood pressure higher than that should talk to their doctor about having it checked more often. Your doctor can check your blood pressure or you can check it at home.

Lifestyle changes and medication can help control blood pressure.

Fasting lipoprotein profile

This blood test is taken to measure total cholesterol, which includes LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol.

“Everybody should have their cholesterols checked at least once a year after a certain age. Normal LDL or bad cholesterol would be less than 100 and the same with triglycerides, which are the blood fats,” said Blumenthal.

The test is also important for detecting genetic abnormalities in cholesterol metabolism and the results provide target threshold numbers for treatment, said Tanayan. Lifestyle changes and medication are used to treat high cholesterol.

This test is taken every four to six years, starting at age 20 or more often for people at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.

Blood glucose test

High blood sugar levels increase your risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, which can all lead to heart disease and stroke, if they are not treated. Specifically, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the functioning of your heart.

One way to screen for type 2 diabetes is by measuring hemoglobin A1c levels (A1c %) in your blood. Diabetes is determined with an A1c level of 6.5% or higher.

Risk scores

Blumenthal said the AHA just released a new risk calculator called PREVENT that estimates the 10- and 30-year risk of total cardiovascular disease for people aged 30 years and older. The calculator estimates the risk of heart attack, stroke and, for the first time, heart failure. In the past, physicians would calculate risk for heart attack and stroke only.

“Congestive heart failure is many times more common than the risk of a heart attack or stroke,” said Blumenthal.

The AHA states that the calculator was created based on health information from more than 6 million adults, including people from diverse racial and ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.

Coronary artery calcium scan

For some people who are at least 35 years old and have at least two risk factors for heart disease, their doctor might recommend a coronary artery calcium (CAC) test, which determines how much plaque is in your heart arteries. This involves a CT scan of the heart that takes images of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. The test helps a doctor determine a person’s risk of heart disease.

“[It’s] really for people who are on the fence about whether or not to add a medication, generally for cholesterol but sometimes for blood pressure control,” said Blumenthal.

The test is appropriate for the following people, according to the AHA.

  • Those who are hesitant to go on statin therapy and want to have a clearer understanding of their risk and potential benefit from medication.
  • People who stopped statin therapy due to side effects but are considering taking them again.
  • Men ages 55 to 80 or women 60 to 80 who don’t have many risks and want to know if statin therapy will be beneficial.
  • People ages 40 to 55 with an estimated 10-year risk for developing heart disease between 5% and 7.5%, and risk factors that increase their chances of heart disease.

To keep your heart healthy, the AHA recommends the following eight health behaviors and factors, which are the key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health.

Having good cardiovascular health helps lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and other major health problems, said Blumenthal.

  1. Eat better by adding in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and cooking with olive oil.
  2. Move more by getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
  3. Quit nicotine in all forms.
  4. Get more quality sleep, which can help improve your eating habits, mood, memory, internal organs and more.
  5. Manage weight by eating better and exercising more.
  6. Maintain healthy cholesterol levels, to lower your chance of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
  7. Manage blood sugar to keep from developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  8. Manage blood pressure with lifestyle changes or medications prescribed by your doctor.