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Recognizing heart disease before a heart attack

May 12, 2009 |  2:27 pm

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but a survey shows that only 19% of people with heart disease said it was picked up during routine health screening.

Of 1,573 heart disease patients surveyed, more than half said their ailment wasn't diagnosed until they began having symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or an actual heart attack. An additional  22% said they were diagnosed while being treated for other health issues. While some of the survey respondents did not seek medical help until they began having symptoms, others said they saw a doctor regularly, yet were not diagnosed with heart disease before having symptoms. Early diagnosis of heart disease begins with an evaluation of a patient's weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and exercise habits and family history.

"Many individuals do not show symptoms and go undiagnosed until the disease is in an advanced state, often when they have actually had a heart attack," the lead author of the study, Dr. Sandra J. Lewis, said in a news release. Lewis is from the Northwest Cardiovascular Institute in Portland, Ore.

Adults over age 20 should be screened for heart disease risk factors every two to five years, Lewis said. People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease and need even more rigorous screening. The study was published Monday in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

--Shari Roan