Among the hundreds of patients Dr. Saadi Albaghdadi oversees, the cardiologist specifically recalls a conversation he had with a man in his mid-30s who sought him for a screening. The man informed Albaghdadi that his father had passed away several years ago in his early 40s with heart complications. The doctor informed the man he should have come to Medical Associates Heart Center much sooner.

"We see people where, alone, their weight is fine, they have not been a smoker, no diabetes," said Albaghdadi, adding that those are all factors that lead to heart disease. He is one of three cardiologists stationed at the heart center. "The larger segment of the population that you see may have larger factors that are under our own control."

February is American Heart Month, and for Albaghdadi that means a timely reminder that proactive approaches to your health limit risks for heart disease  the leading cause of death in the United States. There are a number of factors associated with heart problems, including family history. By visiting a heart specialist, Albaghdadi said, medical professionals can determine specific causes for poor circulation and eliminate life-altering risks.

The rule of thumb, he said, is for anyone over 50 to seek a specialist to create a "cholesterol profile." In other words, people over that age should have the right screenings in order to pinpoint what risks — if any persist within their bodies.

The 50-and-over threshold isn't a clear-cut policy, though. As in the case of the man whose father passed away young, people with a family history of heart problems should have these tests done early.

"You hate to see people where the first contact they have with a doctor is when they have a heart attack," Albaghdadi said. "That to me is too late. We still fix it, we still take care of it, but sometimes damaging effects have already taken place. So our recommendation is not only to have a screening test but to be alert to the heart signs."

The Medical Associates Heart Center is an accredited facility equipped with numerous strategies for locating heart problems. The center offers CAT scans, calcium scoring, ankle breaker tests, nuclear stress tests and coronary CTAs. These are referred to as diagnostic tools, and Albaghdadi said Medical Associates has all the devices cardiologists like him need.

The center conducted 6,000 cardiac tests in 2013.

"We have just about all of the diagnostic tools we need for cardiologists," he said.

Part of the issue that leads to a growing, more permanent heart problem pertains to the subtle nature of symptoms in younger people. People as young as their mid-30s can still exhibit signs that they have heart issues, even though their symptoms don't seem to be extraordinary in nature.

Albaghdadi referenced symptoms like excessive sweating or sexual dysfunction are indicators a person may have a problem with blood circulation in major arteries.

"All of these are signs that can be missed by the patient," he said. "In the past year I've seen a couple patients in their 30s and that's sad. They've had symptoms for a while. And you ask why did they not seek help? It's because the symptoms are so subtle."

To him, the heart is a lot like a car: "It's like if your car is making a noise. You think, well why is it making that noise? It cannot make a noise without a reason.

"So if you have symptoms above the waist that look funny... you have to wonder why this is. It should be paid attention to and checked."

Medical Associates' accreditation certifies that the Heart Center is meeting the criteria necessary for proper heart treatment. The facility is required to meet standards that ensure patients will find out need-to-know information in a timely manner.

The Medical Associates Heart Center is located on the west side of the broader facility on Springdale Drive in Clinton. People interested in being preemptive about cardiology should consult a physician or contact the center at 243-2511.