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Cardiovascular Disease Risk Screening

Cardiovascular disease risk screening

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Cardiovascular disease risk screening measures the health of your heart and blood vessels. When your doctor does your screening, you will get a score that tells you how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years (if you do not make any changes to reduce your risk).

You and your doctor can use this personal screening score to plan and take steps to lower your risk. Lowering your risk can prevent you from having a heart attack or stroke.

Why should I get scree​ned?

Everyone has some level of cardiovascular disease risk. In Canada, heart disease (a type of cardiovascular disease) is the 2nd leading cause of death. Every hour, 12 Canadians over the age of 20 with heart disease die. Managing your risk is important for your health and quality of life.

Your risk can be influenced by:

  • tobacco use
  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol levels
  • diabetes
  • family history
  • activity level
  • age (men are usually diagnosed with cardiovascular disease between 55 to 64 years of age; women are usually diagnosed between 65 to 74 years of age)
  • drinking alcohol
  • eating habits
  • sex (men are 2 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than women)
  • stress levels
  • weight

Knowing your personal risk of cardiovascular disease can help you act to lower your risk.

How is cardiovascular disease risk screening done?

In Alberta, risk screening uses medical lab test results that your family doctor or other primary care provider can arrange. Your doctor will ask you several questions about your health history and fill out the lab requisition form. You can then go to the lab for your test.

The lab uses the information your doctor provides and your blood work results to calculate your percent chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. The tool they use is called the Framingham risk score (FRS).

Anyone between 40 and 75 years of age can be screened. It is especially important to be screened if you have other chronic conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease.

I would like to know my risk score. Can I talk to my doctor about being screened?

Yes. Asking your doctor about screening and explaining why you would like to be screened can give you more control over your own health. It can also give you and your doctor the information you need to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Sometimes it can be difficult to ask your doctor for certain tests or explain why you would like it done. Learning more about what can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease can help you talk with your doctor.

You can try an online cardiovascular disease risk calculator before seeing your doctor to get an idea of your risk. Having this information before you visit your doctor can lead to a more productive conversation and can help you make decisions together.

How will I get my risk score?

The lab will calculate your risk score and send it to your doctor. Your risk score will also be added to your MyHealth Records account. It’s important for you to know your risk score as it helps you to take control of your health.

What does my risk score mean?

Your risk score will be categorized as low risk, intermediate risk, or high risk.

Regardless of your score, making lifestyle changes can reduce your risk.

If you have an intermediate risk or high risk, then your doctor may recommend that you start taking a statin medicine that will lower your risk. Statins are a group of medicines that help to lower the cholesterol in your blood.

If you have diabetes, heart disease (atherosclerosis), or chronic kidney disease, you are automatically classified as high risk and will be offered treatment with statins. If you have one of these conditions, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

How can I lower my risk score?

You can lower your risk score by making changes in your life. There are two main ways to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

  • Take a statin. If your risk score is high or intermediate, your doctor may recommend a statin. Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medicines. They help to prevent you from having a heart attack or stroke. Some people worry about the side effects of statins. Learn more about statin medicines.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Taking a statin alone will lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, but it’s important to take other steps. Lifestyle changes are important for lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. There are many ways to change your lifestyle and lower your risk.
    Drink less alcohol
    Eat healthy foods
    Get some exercise
    Manage your stress
    Quit smoking

Where else can I get help to lower my risk?

Starting to make these changes can seem overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start. Expanding your care team to include a dietitian or a social worker can help with these transitions. Talk to your doctor and connect with the Alberta Healthy Living Program about available supports.

There are also many online resources. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is a great place to start.

Current as of: January 21, 2022

Author: Cardiovascular Health and Stroke SCN, Alberta Health Services