Exercise stress tests key in heart problem detection

Chances are you have heard the risk factors for coronary artery disease before - high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history and inactivity. But sometimes, it forms in patients not meeting any of that criteria. Doctors say it takes paying attention to certain symptoms to catch it before it turns dangerous.

58-year-old Craig Davis is feeling much better today than he was one month ago.  "I had really severe chest pain and tightness in my chest," he said, "I couldn't breathe and I thought I maybe had a virus or pneumonia or something."

This avid long-distance runner with more than 15 marathons under his belt could not even complete one mile without pain.  "I walked back home, took a shower, got dressed and then decided to go to the doctor after that just to make sure I was okay," said Davis.

Local cardiologist John Winterton (Heart & Vascular Center/Memorial Medical Group/WCCH) recommended an exercise-stress test for Davis at West Calcasieu-Cameron Hospital, involving electrodes on the chest, attached to a monitor following the electrical activity of the heart.  "We look for chest discomfort or shortness of breath with the effort," said Dr. Winterton, "and then we have some other things we can monitor like blood pressure and heart rate."

A healthy man in his 50s should be able to walk nine minutes on the treadmill. Davis could not hit the three minute mark.  "About 2:20 into the test, I started feeling some discomfort and my EKG showed that I had a problem," he said.

Next, it was an angiogram where the answer was clear.  "Looking at the angiogram imaging, you can see a a 95 percent blockage," said Dr. Winterton.

In this particular case, the best treatment plan was to put in a stent, restoring blood flow to the front area of the heart.  "To neglect that would allow the plaque to develop and worsen and potentially become unstable," said Dr. Winterton.

That instability can cause the plaque to break up and rupture, leading to a heart attack. Had Davis left his undetected, he could have faced a similar outcome.  "I was actually relieved," he said, "I was glad to know what it was and I was glad to know it was treatable."

While marathons are still a long way down the road for Davis, he is excited to pace himself for the Contraband 5-miler in May.  "I'd love to just run/walk the race just to say I got myself back from December to May," said Davis.

Davis has a goal of one day running a marathon in every state when his health his back to normal.

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