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DETROIT (WWJ) – People are screened for many types of diseases, such as breast and colon cancer — even when no symptoms are present.

So shouldn’t there be a routine screening test for your heart?

WWJ’s Dr. Deanna Lites reports research has shown that, in about 40 to 60 percent of cases, the first time heart disease is discovered is when a heart attack or death occurs.

To catch a heart problem at its earliest, a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recommends a calcium heart scan as a screening test.

“It’s somewhat of a sophisticated x-ray that simply looks for calcium deposits in the coronary arteries,” explained Dr. Thomas LaLonde, a cardiologist at St. John Medical Center. “And the importance of that is that typically there’s calcium in any area where there’s plaque formation.”

Plaque can form when cholesterol combines with fat, calcium, and other substances in the blood. When it builds up, it can cause arteries to narrow, sometimes leading to heart disease, heart attack and stroke

With early detection, LaLonde said patients can takes steps to prevent a future problem.

As to when patients should get a heart screening: “There’s no firm recommendation on that. I would think probably 50 is the time to start thinking about screening in most patients,” LaLonde said.

Probably earlier, he said, for those who have risk factors for heart disease.

That includes smokers, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, and those with a family history. Check with your doctor.

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