In honor of American Heart Month, CVS is offering free heart health screenings at MinuteClinics throughout February, while supplies last.
The free tests—which can be redeemed via online vouchers—are in support of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., causing approximately one in five deaths.
“We partner closely with our patients to help monitor their risk factors and use the results of these screenings and monitoring sessions to make recommendations,” Angela Patterson, DNP, chief nurse practitioner officer of retail health and vice president at CVS Health, told Health in a statement.
With the information gathered from a heart health screening, individuals and their doctors can make decisions about adopting different lifestyle choices or taking medications to reduce their risk of heart disease.
Heart health screenings usually consist of a few tests that look for risk factors that can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease. The condition can cause chest pain, heart attacks, or other symptoms that are signs that the blood can’t move efficiently around the body.
The CVS test will screen for the most common risk factors, Patterson explained—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood glucose, and body mass index (BMI). These four factors each play a different role in an individual’s heart health.
Cholesterol can build up as plaque in the arteries, causing blockages that make it difficult for blood to get to the heart and other organs—and a person is more susceptible to that plaque buildup if they have high blood pressure. Blood vessels can also become more narrow if a person has high blood glucose. And a person may be more likely to have these three conditions if they have obesity.
Elevated numbers in any one of these areas could mean that a person is at a higher risk for CAD, and possible heart failure.
Beyond the four metrics included in the CVS screening, smoking, unhealthy eating, and a family history of CAD—especially in people younger than 50—may also heighten a person’s risk of developing heart disease.
“The tests are administered by licensed health care professionals at more than 1,100 MinuteClinic locations in 36 states and Washington, D.C.,” Patterson explained. “For cholesterol and blood glucose screenings, providers use a simple finger prick to collect a blood sample which is then measured using on-site testing equipment. Results take about 5-10 minutes.”
Blood pressure is typically measured using an arm cuff, and BMI is calculated based on a person’s height and weight.
Because the tests simply check if a person has any notable risk factors for heart disease, there’s no downside to getting it done.
“It won’t tell somebody that they are perfectly healthy,” Lauren Barron, MD, a cardiac surgeon with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine, told Health. “But if one of those numbers is off, it is a very, very good indicator that you should go to your doctor and ask specifically, in particular women, ‘Can we talk about my heart?’.”
It’s recommended that people fast for eight to 12 hours before the screening, but beyond that, there’s very little prep needed for the CVS heart health screening. Anyone over the age of 18 can go online and download the voucher, which can then be printed or shown on a mobile phone at any MinuteClinic location while supplies last.
The free heart health screenings are meant to support CVS’s collaboration with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative, which hopes to specifically raise more awareness of women’s heart health, even though the vouchers are available to anyone.
Women face unique risk factors for heart disease, Patterson explained, including pregnancy and menopause. Additionally, symptoms of a heart attack often look different in women. While both sexes might experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and jaw or shoulder pain, women oftentimes feel nauseous or tired.
“When they go into the ER, because women present with multiple symptoms, not just crushing chest pain, they sort of get triaged to anxiety or other things that aren’t as serious,” Dr. Barron said
Beyond addressing discrepancies in women’s heart health, the free screenings might also help address some other disparities in heart health. Heart disease is much more common among people living in rural areas for groups besides white men. And Black Americans are more likely to die from heart disease than white Americans.
After receiving updated personal data from a heart health screening, individuals who have high cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, or obesity can be referred elsewhere for further testing. The MinuteClinic provider can also look into prescribing some medications, or advise people on lifestyle changes such as plans to quit smoking or improve their diets, Patterson notes.
People under 40 with a family history of any of these risk factors should get screened at least once, and those over 40 should check in with their doctors about how frequently they should get a checkup for their heart health, Dr. Barron added, it may be as frequent as yearly.
Getting a free screening at CVS could jumpstart that process and help individuals make a clear plan with their doctors.
“When you come [in] with something that’s objective data, like a blood pressure or a cholesterol or a blood glucose [test], that is hard evidence that can be passed even without words,” Dr. Barron said. “That helps you show up with a ticket in your hand for what needs to be addressed.”