Why would you not?

I have been a nurse for over 35 years and it continues to amaze me when I hear the question, “should I go get that done?” I am talking about routine check-ups, immunizations, lab work and screenings that can catch medical problems early, or help to decrease the risk of that acquiring that medical problem in the first place. I’ll admit there are a lot of things to think about and coordinate in our daily lives, but what can be more important than taking care of ourselves? We really aren’t doing our family, friends, and community any good if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

Today I am featuring our Stroke and Vascular screening. This screening is held on the second Monday of every month at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge. The results are read by Dr. Michael J. Willerth, our vascular and general surgeon here at Trinity, and mailed out promptly to the participants. We encourage those results be shared with your primary care provider.

The first part of the test is the Stroke Screen. It is encouraged for people who are at risk for a stroke. Risk factors include family history of stroke, high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, heavy use of alcohol, and lack of physical activity. Every 40 seconds in our country someone is having a stroke. That accounts for nearly 800,000 people. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain, carrying oxygen and nutrients, becomes blocked with a buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis); and subsequently a blood clot, which then cuts off the blood supply to the brain. This type of stroke is called ischemic and is the most common. A second type of stroke is hemorrhagic and occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. The testing includes carotid artery ultrasound to assess if the arteries in the neck are blocked or narrowed. It is a safe and painless test.

Blood pressure and heart rhythm are also checked with the stroke assessment. More than half of strokes are caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure. Fight back against this “silent killer” by routinely having your blood pressure checked. If on medication, take it as prescribed. A low sodium diet, regular exercise, and optimal body weight will also help to manage blood pressure.

Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that may cause blood clots to form within the heart. The clot is then pumped out of the heart to the brain where blood supply is cut off, thus causing a stroke. An ECG is done to assess the regularity of the heart rhythm.

A cholesterol result is obtained to assess if that may be a contributing factor in a buildup of plaque within the blood vessels. A high cholesterol level increases the risk for stroke as well as for heart disease.

The next part of the vascular testing is an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screen. This consists of an ultrasound of the abdomen. An aneurysm is a weakened area of blood vessel that then bulges out. A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency. The greatest risk factor for this is a family history of aneurysm. Other risk factors include age, male gender, tobacco use, high blood pressure and peripheral vascular disease. My own dad died at the age of 69 of a ruptured abdominal aneurysm. He had many of the risk factors listed, and I wish he would have undergone this screening. I know my siblings and I work to decrease our risk factors and have also had this screening done.

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) is the same disease of atherosclerosis, but it’s occurring in the periphery, particularly in the legs. Many people may have PVD, but be symptom free. The common signs and symptoms seen include pain, numbness, achiness, or heaviness of legs especially with walking, weak or absent pulses in the legs and/or feet, sores or wounds that are slow to heal, pale or bluish color leg skin color, lower skin temperature in one leg compared to the other, poor toenail growth or absence of hair growth on legs, and erectile dysfunction especially if diabetic. This test measures blood pressure at your ankle compared to blood pressure at your arm. If you are at risk for stroke or heart disease, you are also at risk for PVD.

The final part of the package, although not vascular, is the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) screen. Osteoporosis is a common disease that is associated with low bone density. Many do not realize they are at risk of osteoporosis until a fracture occurs. There are a number of risk factors for Osteoporosis, such as age, gender, previous fractures, tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, but the most important of which is low BMD. Measures to keep bone strong include adequate calcium intake, supplemental calcium and Vitamin D if needed, weight resistance exercise, optimal body weight, tobacco cessation, and alcohol use moderation. This simple test takes only seconds measuring the heel bone. This screening can certainly provide early detection and management of weak or porous bones.

The cost for all four screens if $115. The carotid artery scan, AAA scan, and PVD test each cost $35 or $100 for all three. The Bone Density by itself is $25. Unfortunately private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover this screening. We hope you take the time to take care of yourself and consider calling me at 574-6505 to get this important appointment into your calendar.

Tami Fitzgerald Davis, R.N., is affiliated with Trinity Healthy Living.

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