Over 40? Five tests you need right now

JANE SOUTHWARD
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2013
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Heart disease and suicide are big killers of the over 40s. Take these tests before it's too late:

1. Coronary calcium scoring

If you are a male over 45, or have a family history of heart disease plus risk factors such as being overweight or having high blood pressure, cardiologist Jason Kaplan advises a CT scan to check the plaque, cholesterol and scar tissue in the arteries around your heart.

"Calcium scoring is the number one best predictor of a future heart attack," Dr Kaplan says.

"Calcified plaque, a major warning sign of coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of heart attacks. It shows up at least 10 years before a heart attack or stroke hits. By catching the problem early, you can treat it before the build-up narrows arteries so severely that it triggers a heart attack."

The scan takes three minutes after electrodes are attached to your chest and to an ECG machine that monitors your heartbeat.

One GP, Dr Trevor Tingate, also recommends that every man over 40 and woman over 50 see their doctor for a coronary angiogram to detect any flaws in the heart before they begin a serious exercise regime.

2. Drinking test

This simple test need not involve your doctor - how big is your glass?

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, if you drink more than two standard alcoholic drinks on any day, or more than four drinks on a single occasion, your lifetime risk of disease or injury increases. But what's a standard drink?

You'll probably be surprised to read a standard drink is 285ml of beer, 100ml of wine or 30ml of spirits.

According to a new study led by Associate Professor Peter Miller, a researcher at Deakin University, it is drinking at home before people go out that is causing big problems.

Miller's study found people who drank between six and 10 standard drinks before going out were twice as likely to get into trouble as those who did not drink beforehand.

Find out how drink wise you are at cheers.org.nz.

3. Head test

Suicide is the number one killer of men under 44 and almost 80 per cent of all suicides are men, the Australian Psychological Society says.

Dr Brian Graetz, BeyondBlue's general manager of research for child and youth, says depression and anxiety are huge issues and recommends men and women complete the K10 (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale), a 10-item free test that takes two minutes to complete online.

"The K10 generates one score of psychological distress, but this single score is a good proxy for whether the person is likely to be experiencing a mental health disorder and in need of professional support," Dr Graetz says.

Scores range from 10 to 50 and if you score over 30, you should seek professional help.

You can find the test on this website or by seeing your doctor.

4. Blood pressure test

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High blood pressure (or hypertension) can lead to heart attack, stroke or heart failure, says Dr Rob Grenfell, National Cardiovascular Health Director for the Heart Foundation.

"It's often called a silent killer because there are no symptoms," Dr Grenfell says.

"The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is by having regular check-ups."

Dr Grenfell says while there is no firm rule about what defines high blood pressure, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg and high blood pressure is anything above 140/90 mmHg. For more information visit the Heart Foundation.

5. Cholesterol test

The Heart Foundation says all adults should have a fasting cholesterol test every five years - and every two years if there's a family history of heart disease.

A blood test is used to measure your total cholesterol which includes your "bad" cholesterol known as LDL and your "good" cholesterol, HDL.

"As a general rule, aim for total cholesterol levels of less than 4, HDL cholesterol of more than 1, LDL cholesterol of less than 2 and Triglycerides of less than 2," Dr Grenfell says.

"Too much cholesterol in the blood causes fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, which can cause a heart attack or stroke."

- The Age

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