Heart Screenings

Heart Screenings Save Lives

Heart disease can prevent your heart from doing its vital job. Know your risk and protect your heart with a screening from Sanford Health.

This affordable, painless test gives you and your doctor a better look at your risk for heart disease. Give yourself some peace of mind with a heart screening. It could save your life.

What is a Heart Screening

A heart screening is comprehensive. It checks your heart health using various tests and checks. When should you get screened? Every heart is different. The general guideline is that everyone ages 40-75 should get a heart screening every 10 years.

Your primary care provider can recommend a screening schedule for you based on your family history and risk factors. Which tests you get during your screening will also vary based on your provider’s recommendations.

A heart screening may include:

Cardiac Calcium Score

Cardiac calcium scoring is recommended for people who have risk factors such as:


  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco use

This test is a computerized tomography (CT) scan. You’ll lie on a table and go into the CT machine. The machine takes several images at different angles to look at your heart health.

The test checks how much calcium, or plaque, has built up in your arteries. Plaque slowly collects over time and restricts blood flow to the muscles in your heart. It’s often the culprit behind a heart attack – plaque can burst apart and create a blood clot that fully blocks an artery.

After the test, you’ll receive your cardiac calcium score. The higher the score, the more plaque was detected. Here’s what your score means for your health:

  • 0: No plaque is present. You have less than a 5% chance of having heart disease and a very low risk of heart attack.
  • 1-10: Small amount of plaque is present. You have less than a 10% chance for heart disease and a low risk of heart attack. Now’s the time to quit smoking, eat better and exercise more.
  • 11-100: Plaque is present. You have mild heart disease and are at a moderate risk of heart attack. You should talk with your provider about quitting smoking, eating better, exercising and taking other necessary treatments.
  • 101-400: A moderate amount of plaque is present. You have heart disease, and plaque may be blocking an artery. Your heart attack risk is moderate to high, and your provider may want more tests and to start treatment.
  • Over 400: A large amount of plaque is present. It’s very likely that plaque is blocking an artery and your heart attack risk is high. Your provider will want more tests and will start treatment.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

The heart is a hollow muscle that contracts and relaxes to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body. Each heartbeat has an electrical impulse. These electrical impulses create a series of peaks and valleys that represent a cardiac cycle (one heartbeat). An EKG measures these peaks and valleys to evaluate your heartbeat.

For an EKG test, the test administrator will place sensors on your skin to record the electrical activity of your heart. This brief snapshot of your heart’s electrical activity can show if it is beating normally.

If your EKG shows your heart is beating irregularly, more tests may be scheduled.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Your BMI is easily determined using your height and weight. Calculate your BMI here.

Based on your BMI, you’ll be placed in a weight category:

  • Underweight: 18.5 or less
  • Normal weight: 18.6-24.9
  • Overweight: 25-29.9
  • Obesity: 30 or greater

Being overweight or obese could put you at risk of health conditions like heart disease. BMI is a guide to how much body fat you have, although it underestimates and overestimates body fat in certain populations. Your provider can provide a more comprehensive understanding of your weight and health risks.

Non-Fasting Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat found in the blood and body cells. The liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs, but people also get cholesterol through their diet.

High cholesterol levels increase the chance for plaque buildup in artery walls. Your body needs cholesterol to function, but too much cholesterol can cause serious problems such as heart attacks.

A cholesterol screening is a quick finger poke. The amount of cholesterol in your blood is measured and evaluated. It measures the ratio of total cholesterol (TC) vs. high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is the good type of cholesterol that can protect against plaque buildup. Low-density lipoproteins are the bad type.

Your TC/HDL ratio predicts your risk of heart attack and stroke:

  • Recommended: 199 or less
  • Moderate risk: 200-239
  • High risk: 240 or greater

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the force blood puts on blood vessel walls as it travels through the body. When you get your blood pressure tested, your provider will give you two numbers such as 120/80. The systolic (top) number shows the pressure in the heart and arteries when the heart contracts. The diastolic (bottom) number shows the pressure in the heart and arteries during the resting or filling stage of the heartbeat.

A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 but will vary with activity or stress. Elevated blood pressure can lead to heart attack and other forms of heart disease.

Because high blood pressure often has no symptoms, it is known as the silent killer. If high blood pressure is not treated, it stresses the blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken or weaken. It can cause clots to break off artery walls and plug an artery in the heart, brain or elsewhere in the body. Many people don’t know they have high blood pressure until they’ve been tested for it. A painless arm squeeze will educate you on your risk.

Framingham Risk Score

A Framingham Risk Score gives you a number that estimates your risk of having heart disease in the next 10 years. Your score will be determined by assessing your risk factors and personal health history such as:


  • Age
  • Sex
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Tobacco use

Benefits of a Heart Screening

Heart screens are accessible, affordable and can make a long-term difference in your life. Early detection of heart disease allows you and your primary care provider to make changes now and reduce or prevent problems later. 

Visit a Heart Screening Location

Sanford Health conveniently offers heart screenings throughout South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Discounts may be available if you schedule a heart and vascular screening together.

Schedule a heart screening by finding a location near you or discuss if one is right for you with your primary care provider over My Sanford Chart.

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