February 6, 2023

Carrie Fisher’s death: ‘Wake-Up Call’ for heart screen tests

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By Lynn Allison From Newsmax

“Star Wars” Actress Carrie Fisher’s death from a heart attack at age 60 should be a “wake-up call” about the threat of cardiovascular disease — particularly in women — and should prompt every American 55 and older to be screened for common factors that can flag risks.

That’s the view of Dr. Kevin Campbell, a leading cardiologist from North Carolina, who says many Americans miss the signs of heart disease that often precede a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

“One thing for sure — Carrie Fisher’s death should be a call to action for all women,” says Campbell, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Division of Cardiology.

“Know your risk factors, assess and modify your risk. This can be a way for all to increase awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S. today. A yearly physical with doctors to assess her risk factors couple with a stress test or echocardiogram may have prevented her demise.”

Fisher died on Tuesday, several days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday. She had remained hospitalized since then.

Fisher’s death is “a cautionary tale for women,” says Dr. Harvey Kramer, director of cardiovascular disease prevention at Danbury Hospital and co-author of “The Women’s Guide to Heart Attack Recovery.”

He adds: “They can have atypical symptoms that they write off like nausea and unexplained weakness. For the men, more typical symptoms can be to be diagnosed. Yes, women need to pay attention. [But] sudden death can affect anybody.”

Heart attack survival rates have steadily been climbing in recent decades, in part because of better hospital care. But cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women, Kramer notes.

“Decades ago 25 percent of people that had a [heart attack]; this year 5 percent die,” he says. “The problem isn’t being in the hospital, it is people who this happens to who aren’t near the hospital.”

He adds that Fisher’s death points up the need for getting cardiovascular screening by age 55 — such as a stress test, but also blood pressure and cholesterol checks. That’s particularly important for men and women who have a family history of heart disease, are obese, inactive, and don’t follow a healthy diet.

“Everybody should have an assessment of their cardiac risk at 55,” he says. “People with risk factors need to be screened with at least a stress test and then depending on what they can afford, either a coronary artery calcium score or a CCTA — computerized cardiac tomographic angiography — that costs about $2,500 out of pocket.”

In the wake of acclaimed actor Alan Thicke’s sudden death from a fatal heart attack at the age of 69 earlier this month, Campbell told Newsmax a simple screening test might have prevented the tragedy by evaluating his fitness level and spotlighting the risks.

Just recently, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement suggesting that aerobic fitness should be considered a vital sign of health routinely checked by doctors — just as body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing rates are now.

“Screening for aerobic fitness may have identified abnormalities that would have prompted intervention for Mr. Thicke, particularly if he had risk factors and had a cardiac stress test performed. A stress test could have likely identified a blocked artery,” says Campbell, an internationally recognized cardiologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.

In addition to aerobic fitness screening, Campbell — assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Division of Cardiology — suggests Americans get the following screening tests:

Blood pressure screening. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer. It damages blood vessels and organs over time so it’s important that all adults are screened annually.

Cholesterol test. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Most people have no symptoms of high cholesterol and may not even know that their lipids are abnormal.

Eye exam. The eyes can tell a lot about your health, says Campbell, including detecting undiagnosed disease such as diabetes.

Body fat measurement. Using simple skin calipers, you can have your body fat measured to determine where you are from a fitness standpoint and to help you set goals.

Blood chemistry count. Getting annual blood work is important to check for anemia, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Charlotte Libov contributed to this report.

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