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Free heart screening is Feb. 15 at Wellness Arena

It’s time to take care of your heart.

February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for South Carolina women and men – despite the fact that approximately 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented or managed.

Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is joining a statewide effort to raise awareness with free screenings that include a full lipid profile, blood pressure, blood glucose, BMI and risk assessment. This year’s free heart screening event is 7 – 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Last year’s event screened 135 people.

“Screening is really important for everybody,” said James Merriam, a physician with Upstate Cardiology. “Risk factors for heart disease are pretty easy to identify. The problem with a lot of people is that we find out after they have an event.”

Identifying risk factors when people are in their 20s or 30s can lead to a much better outcome. Cholesterol numbers are critical, as is blood pressure.

“People can walk around with high blood pressure for decades without symptoms,” Merriam said. “Diabetes is a huge risk factor for coronary disease.”

A heart attack that occurs in someone who is in their 50s or 60s has likely been brewing for a long time.

“You don’t just have an event all of a sudden,” Merriam said. “The blockages that form in your coronary arteries happen very slowly over long periods of time. You want to prevent the problem from happening.”

The first step is to quit smoking.

“People who tend to have events when they are younger are usually smokers,” Merriam said.

Though many people associate smoking with lung cancer, Merriam said its effect on younger patients is often seen in the form of a heart attack.

Obesity also plays an important part in heart health.

“People with a family history need to modify their risk factors,” Merriam said. “For those people we have to be more aggressive.”

But you can’t address problems until you know they exist. That’s why screening is a key to heart health.

“Everyone that’s able should come out if they care about their health,” Merriam said.

The heart screening event is 7 – 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Fasting is recommended for accurate results. Complimentary parking will be available in the VIP lot off Church Street. For details, visit

Think you aren’t at risk? Consider the American Heart Association’s 2017 statistics:

•Heart disease (including coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke) remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.

•Coronary heart disease accounts for one in seven deaths in the U.S., killing over 360,000 people a year.

•Someone in the U.S. has a stroke about once every 40 seconds.

•Stroke accounts for one of every 20 deaths in the U.S.

•Stroke kills someone in the U.S. about every four minutes.

•Heart disease is the leading killer for all Americans, but in African Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher than in white Americans.

Take a quiz to learn your heart score:

(Source: American Heart Association)