Last updated: Dec 04, 2008

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Although only your doctor can assess which tests are right for you, here are some workups that can help keep tabs on your heart health.
Test Who should get it How often How it works What the experts say
Cholesterol Everyone Every five years; more frequently if youre high risk or have had abnormal results in the past A blood test breaks down your HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol. The goal is total cholesterol under 160, with LDL under 100 and HDL above 60. Your normal range does increase as you age, but problems will show up by your 20s if youre genetically predisposed; check your family history.
Blood Pressure Everyone At least every two years; more often if youre pregnant, diabetic, or have a history of high blood pressure A cuff inflated around your upper arm allows for a reading of how the heart pushes blood through your arteries. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80, yet a little higher or lower likely isnt a problem. Ask your doctor whats baseline for you and keep track of it.
Electro­cardiogram (ECG or EKG) Patients with several risk factors or symptoms of heart disease After age 40, every one to three years Electrodes connected to your chest, arms, and legs record the rhythm and strength of the heart. Symptoms such as palpitations, skipped beats, a racing heart, fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain may be signs that an ECG is needed.
Stress test Patients with several risk factors or symptoms of heart disease As directed by your doctor You walk on a treadmill, and your heart activity is evaluated by ECG. Women tend to have more false-positive stress tests, possibly due to hormones. Ask your doc about an accompanying test that records pictures of the heart before and after exercise.
CT scan Patients with symptoms or a strong family history of heart disease As directed by your doctor Images of the heart are taken to detect the severity of symptoms. What the experts say: A warning: One scan contains the radiation of 200 X-rays and can increase your risk of breast cancer in a small but significant way.
High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) Talk to your doctor As directed by your doctor A blood test checks your level of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation. A new, breakthrough study recommends this test in addition to cholesterol and blood pressure checks. If youre diagnosed with a high CRP level, you may be offered a statin (even if your cholesterol is normal).