Jeff is a well-known speaker and expert in life insurance and financial planning. He has been featured and quoted in Nerdwallet, Bloomberg, Forbes, U.S. News & Money, USA Today, and other leading finance websites. He is a licensed life insurance agent and has helped over 3000 people secure life insurance. He is licensed in all 50 states & DC. Jeff has spoken at top insurance conferen...

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Benjamin Carr was a licensed insurance agent in Georgia and has two years' experience in life, health, property and casualty coverage. He has worked with State Farm and other risk management firms. He is also a strategic writer and editor with a background in branding, marketing, and quality assurance. He has been in military newsrooms — literally on the frontline of journalism.

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Reviewed by Benji Carr
Former Licensed Life Insurance Agent Benji Carr

UPDATED: Apr 29, 2022

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One of the most important parts of the human body is the heart.

This muscular organ is responsible for pumping blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to your body, while simultaneously carrying away waste.

How Your Heart Health Affects Life Insurance

Unfortunately, for playing such an important role, heart health is often neglected.

In fact, disease of the heart is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Today, we are going to begin our series on heart health, and how drastically your heart health can influence your life insurance premium.

How does the heart work?

Think of your heart like a two-in-one pump.

One side – the right side – receives blood from your body and pumps it into your lungs. The other side does the complete opposite; this side receives blood from your lungs and pumps it to the rest of your body.

Before each heartbeat, your heart fills with blood. Then it contracts and squeezes the blood out to the rest of the body. This is called a heartbeat.

First, the SA nodes, a cluster of cells in the upper atrium of the heart sends out an electrical signal, causing these upper chambers (or atria) to contract. Then, the atrioventricular node between the upper chambers and the lower ventricles of the heart sends out a signal, which causes these lower chambers to contract.

What is an EKG (electrocardiogram)?

Essentially, your heart is run by electricity, which is monitored by an electrocardiogram, also known as an EKG.

Electrocardiograms are designed to measure the electrical activity of the four chambers of the heart, in order to ensure that it functions properly.

During an EKG reading, a nurse will attach electrodes to your chest in order to monitor your heartbeat. These electrodes don’t give off electricity; rather, they conduct and measure a reading of electrical activity, which is then translated to paper in the form of line tracings.

It is common for these tracings to have spikes and dips, or waves, which record the natural rhythm of the heart.

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EKG Readings Can Affect Life Insurance

When you provide a life insurance application, your insurer may require that you undergo an EKG test. EKG tests can tell many things about an individual’s heart function, including how fast your heart beats and how well your heart’s four chambers conduct electrical activity.

A normal EKG reading is made by excluding any recognized abnormality, and an abnormality can be anything from a normal variation in the heart’s rhythm to a serious medical condition. An abnormal heart rhythm might indicate a simpler health problem requiring every day life changes, or something like coronary artery disease which could put you at risk for a stroke or heart attack (medically known as a myocardial infarction).

These variations in possible health indications, or outcomes, makes EKG readings difficult to underwrite for life insurance policies.

For example, an abnormal EKG can mean the following:

  • An imbalance of electrolytes. These electrolytes help keep the heart in rhythm and include magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
  • A heart defect or an abnormality in heart size or shape. This typically means one of the heart’s walls is larger than the other, which makes it more difficult to pump blood.
  • An abnormality in heart rate or blood pressure. Normally, your heart rate should fall somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm); however, occasionally the heart can beat too slowly or too quickly.
  • The presence of a heart attack, which affects blood flow in the heart, causing the heart’s tissue to lose oxygen and die. If the tissue in the heart loses oxygen, it cannot conduct electricity.
  • An abnormality in heart rhythm.
  • Ischemia, or a lack of blood flow to the heart.
  • The side effects of certain medications, such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you should not panic if your EKG reading reveals abnormalities. Your physician will evaluate your family history, your medical history, your current health and any symptoms you might be experiencing. These abnormalities can mean a number of things and may not have a detrimental effect on your life insurance premiums.

What To Do If Your EKG Is Abnormal

Should your reading reveal abnormalities, your first step is to get a second opinion, which may include stress tests and stress echocardiograms to further assess the abnormalities.

Your insurer will require a second opinion as well, in order to better underwrite your risk. These may require another EKG reading, along with additional medical examinations. During a stress test, heart activity is measured both at rest and during periods of activity. You will be placed on a treadmill and your heart’s electrical impulses will be assessed as your exercise load increases to ensure that it is functioning properly.

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound imaging to assess the heart’s valves, muscle and blood flow. If need be, a coronary angiogram, involving x-ray photos and the injection of a dye will be used to contrast the coronary arteries from the surrounding tissues. These images are able to show blockages or narrowing of blood vessels that may not be visible via ultrasound.

In some extreme cases, cardiac catheterization may be needed. During this test, a catheter with a tiny camera is inserted and used to study how well blood vessels are functioning. A cath report is then provided, detailing the precise location and extent of arterial narrowing, as well as the functionality of the left ventricle (the main pumping valve of the heart).

After undergoing additional tests, your life insurance company will want to know:

  • The degree of abnormality of the first reading
  • The type of tests administered
  • Your history of tobacco use
  • Your weight
  • Your cholesterol levels
  • Your family’s history with heart disease and diabetes
  • Any medications you are taking

You Can Still Find Affordable Life Insurance!

An abnormal EKG report does not have to interfere with your ability to find affordable life insurance.

If your EKG reading is abnormal, it could indicate a variety of health problems, meaning applicants are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

For abnormal EKG readings, especially, you will want to enlist the help of an agent who can communicate your risk favorably to underwriters.

Don’t let the fear of declines and high premiums stop you from finding the best life insurance for you. Give us a call today to see how we can help.