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Many in U.S. Get Unneeded Heart Screening Tests

Survey Suggests Healthy Americans Get Tests That Could Expose Them to Unnecessary Risks

Positive Survey Results

On the plus side, the researchers found that 98% of those polled had their blood pressure checked. That's a good thing, says Santa.

Everyone over age 18 should have blood pressure checked when they visit their doctor and at least once every two years, he says.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents without heart disease risk factors and 97% of those with risk factors had their cholesterol checked. Consumer Reports recommends cholesterol screening for all men and for women at high risk every five years.

Beyond those tests, Santa says, whether a test will provide benefit or not depends on age, sex, and other factors.

Santa says the survey respondents didn't tend to ask why a test was needed, nor think of risks -- such as potential complications or the need for additional testing if the results weren't definite.

Second Opinion

Patients ask too few questions about screening tests, says Ravi Dave, MD, a cardiologist at Santa Monica -- UCLA Medical Center & Orthopaedic Hospital, Calif.

He reviewed the survey findings for WebMD but was not involved in the survey.

"The common perception among patients is, 'If I am getting a test to check something out, it's a good thing,'" says Dave, also an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

But, Dave says, the test is sometimes not necessary.

He urges patients to ask their doctor why the test is needed. "What you also need to ask is, 'Is this something that can be excluded by just a physical exam?'" he says.

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