U program bumps up heart screening

Kathryn Elliott

Most people concerned about heart attacks or strokes go to their doctor and get a risk score based on age, sex, cholesterol and blood pressure. And then they wait.

University of Minnesota researchers developed more in-depth screening tools 10 years ago, and now have the data to show their tests predict the warning signs of a heart attack far more accurately than the âÄúFraminghamâÄù risk score the standard nationwide.

The 10-part testing program measures plaque formation and stiffening and thickening of the arteries. Staff use ultrasound to visualize the heart. The whole process, including a consultation with a nurse about the results, takes patients about two hours.

More than one-third of the 2,000 people screened at the University of Minnesota PhysiciansâÄô Rasmussen Center for cardiovascular disease prevention discovered they were at high risk for future heart attacks, even when they thought they were healthy.

The Journal of the American Society of Hypertension released the Rasmussen Center results on Friday.

 âÄú[Patients] are obviously disappointed to find out, but theyâÄôre also delighted to discover what they need to do,âÄù said Dr. Jay Cohn, the University of Minnesota cardiologist who developed the program in 2000.

The published data shows that neither blood pressure levels nor cholesterol levels establish heart-related risk as effectively as CohnâÄôs program.

Cohn and his associates have shared the program with three centers in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. Each center purchased about $90,000 of necessary equipment including a treadmill and a device that measures the elasticity of the arteries.

Heart disease and stroke are highly preventable but also widespread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.