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Heart Disease Health Center

Heart Testing Overused, Report Finds

Direct-to-Consumer Ads Mislead Public, Consumer Reports Says
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Ads Push Heart Scanning

The Consumer Reports investigation targeted direct-to-consumer advertising and marketing of high-tech heart tests by medical device manufacturers, hospitals, medical centers, and doctor groups as a particular concern.

One ad cited in the Consumer Reports report run by an Austin heart hospital read “Find a new way to tell Dad you love him. Show your love with a HeartSaver CT.”

In an editorial published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lovett wrote that the direct-to consumer ads exploit patient fears, and she called on the FDA to regulate them.

“When the medical technical revolution started we believed that the more testing we did the better off patients would be, and if we found something abnormal we should act on it,” she tells WebMD. “We now know that acting on abnormal results can lead to harm.”

Established Heart Treatments Work Well

The Consumer Reports report cites the web site Track Your Plaque, which promotes heart CT scans with the claim that “the old tests for heart disease were wrong -- dead wrong.”

Santa says nothing could be further from the truth.

“The tests and interventions that we have known about for decades clearly work well and make a huge difference in terms of preventing heart disease,” he says.

The Consumer Reports report lists six proven strategies for lowering heart risk that could save millions of lives.

They are:

  1. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year and treat high blood pressure aggressively.
  2. Have your cholesterol tested and treat high levels with lifestyle modification and medication, if necessary.
  3. Lose some weight. People who are overweight or obese can lower their risk of heart attack and stroke by losing extra pounds.
  4. Have blood sugar levels tested if you have risk factors for diabetes and control blood sugar if you have the disease.
  5. Stop smoking. The American Heart Disease estimates that more than 3 million heart attacks and 1 million strokes could be prevented over the next three decades with effective smoking cessation.
  6. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking low-dose aspirin if you have heart disease risk factors.

“Extensive cardiovascular testing is appropriate for many patients, but these tests should not be done routinely in people without symptoms and they should not be marketed to the public,” American Heart Association president Gordon Tomaselli, MD, tells WebMD.

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