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5 Heart Tests You Don't Need, 4 You Do

Heart attack

How heart smart are you?

Do you know what your gums have to do with your heart? Or what the most dangerous day of the year is for a heart attack? Or the best type of pet for someone who has had a heart attack?

And what about some of those tests your doctor might want to order, like a heart calcium scan or an exercise stress tests -- do you really need them?

Nationally known heart experts Steven Nissen, M.D.,  and Marc Gillinov, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic have written a new book called "Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need," to help people sift out the useful information from some of the incorrect or even dangerous stuff that's out there.

An informative Q-and-A with the authors in USA Today included a helpful heart-smart quiz, based on the book, plus other


important heart-health advice.

The two cardiologists were asked which tests people should avoid. They suggested these five:

- Heart calcium scans. These tests expose patients to excessive radiation and have not been demonstrated to save lives.

-Total body CT scans. These scans, which examine the heart and other organs throughout the body, involve huge doses of radiation and have not been shown to improve outcomes. The Food and Drug Administration has warned the public about this procedure.

-Exercise stress tests, or treadmill tests, in patients without symptoms. The chances of a false positive test are high and an abnormal result could lead to unnecessary heart catheterization, an invasive procedure in which long tubes are inserted through the blood vessels.

-Some ultrasound examinations (echo tests). An echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, should be used only for those with other signs of heart disease, such as a heart murmur or heart failure.  Carotid ultrasounds, for example, are sometimes ordered in healthy people to determine if they have thickened walls of the artery. The problem with this type of screening test is that it can lead to unintended consequences. We strongly prefer to get a medical history, then measure the well-validated risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.

-Fancy cholesterol tests. Well-meaning physicians frequently order special cholesterol tests that measure cholesterol "particle size," sometimes known as VAP or NMR cholesterol tests. These tests are expensive and do not improve outcomes. They are unnecessary.

And here are four tests the authors said that people really need:

- Blood pressure: Check every year, even if you're feeling fine. High blood pressure, which can damage the heart and other  organs, usually  has no symptoms.

- Weight check (body mass index or BMI): Check every year. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for heart disease.

- Cholesterol test (lipid profile): Get your first check by age 20. If results are normal, check again every five years.

- Fasting blood sugar: Check this annually if you are overweight. High blood sugar levels can damage the heart.

The article also included the doctors' advice on the questions people should ask before starting a new medication or undergoing an invasive procedure, as well as things women should know about heart disease (like, did you know women are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer? Or that the risk jumps after menopause?).

As for whether everyone over 40 should be taking a daily low-dose aspirin, both cardiologists think this is bad advice.

"Unless you have known coronary heart disease, have had a stroke, or have many risk factors for heart disease, you shouldn't take aspirin on a daily basis," they said.

In other health news:

Allergy season comes early thanks to mild winter. The "winter that wasn't" with its mild temps was great, except now it's payback time for allergy sufferers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Pollen counts are already up and allergy sufferers are sniffling, sneezing and suffering other symptoms due to the early start of allergy season. Allergists say they are prescribing new types of treatments to more aggressively fight the problem.

5 reasons to kick your soda habit.  Besides leading to obesity and diabetes, there are other reasons why soda is bad for you, according to, including the toxic cans, the questionable coloring in colas and a condition dentists call "Mountain Dew mouth" because of citrus soda's accelerated effect at eroding teeth enamel. (A well-known 2004 study found that citrus sodas like Mountain Dew and Sprite erode teeth enamel two to five times faster than cola.)

No, not chia pets -- chia seeds. They're packed with fiber, nutrients. Tiny, black chia seeds have been touted lately (by Dr. Oz, among others) for their fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and protein. Sprinkle them on cereal or yogurt, or add them to muffins. Here's a pumpkin chia muffin recipe (from Dr. Oz on Oprah). It calls for the seeds to be ground, but they're so teeny, you could just add them whole, if you want.

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