The Key to a Healthy Heart 

If you have a car, chances are you schedule regular maintenance to make sure it's in good running condition. You probably make sure the oil is changed regularly and the pistons free of crust that could inhibit their ability to pump. But many people neglect their own internal engine. The heart.

The Centers for Disease Control says cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are among the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, it accounts for 40 percent of all deaths. Yet many Americans don't pay attention to the risk factors of heart disease, which include high cholesterol, poor nutrition, smoking and obesity.

If you have these risk factors talk to a doctor. It's important to be honest (even if you're a little embarrassed about your smoking or overeating habits) so the doctors can assess your risk for heart disease as accurately as possible.  What goes on during a heart exam depends on the patient's risk factors, history of heart problems, current symptoms and the doctor's interpretation of the patient's risk factors.

A doctor will usually perform a simple test first, such as a chest x-ray and EKG, to measure the electrical impulses in the heart. The doctor may then want to order an ejection fraction, a test that measures how much blood the left ventricle is pumping out of the heart with each contraction. The doctor may also order an echocardiography, an ultrasound test that uses sound waves to examine the heart's structure and motion.

Other tests a doctor may order include a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging. These tests are noninvasive, or in other words they don't involve using needles or tubes.

Other tests such as radionuclide ventriculography involve injecting a small amount of radioactive dye into a vein and then taking pictures as the heart pumps.

Of course, the best thing to do is to try to prevent your chances of getting heart disease.  What can you do to lower your risk?

·        Exercise and lose weight. Even low intensity activities when performed for at least 30 minutes can bring health benefits. This can include walking, gardening and even moderate housework.

·        If you smoke, this is another reason to quit.

·        Try to establish a balanced diet. This will help you get all the nutrients your body needs and may help reduce your cholesterol.

Keeping your heart healthy can help keep your body running in top condition.