Heart health – know your numbers

Doctors at Baylor College of Medicine suggest people take control of their heart health, and the first step is knowing your numbers and how they can contribute to heart attacks and stroke.

“There are some lifestyle risk factors that increase your chance of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Christie Ballantyne, professor of medicine and chief of the section of cardiology at Baylor.

“Those include smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, or a diet high in saturated fats and simple sugars.

“But there are also other factors you might not realize are affecting your heart, such as high blood pressure or LDL cholesterol levels,” noted Ballantyne.

“That is why it is important to know your numbers and what they mean for you,” she stressed.

Ballantyne said a yearly doctor’s visit is recommended and should include a blood pressure check, a cholesterol test – including triglycerides and both HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol – and a discussion with your doctor about other risk factors and family health history.

From there, she said, “…you and your doctor can decide how often to follow up and what else you can do to improve your overall health.”

Blood pressure

When blood pressure is measured there is a set of numbers presented that reflect how blood is flowing to and from the heart. The systolic reading (the number at the top of the ratio) shows the force in the artery when blood is being pumped out of the heart. The diastolic reading (the number at the bottom of the ratio) is the force in the artery when the heart is relaxing.

A healthy blood pressure reading is generally 120/80 mmHg. Hypertension or high blood pressure is usually defined as blood pressure over 140/90 mmHg.

Cholesterol and triglycerides

Healthy cholesterol levels are less than 200mg/dL. More important are the fractions of HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels; however, each reading is important to understand. 

LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol and is responsible for clogged arteries. Optimal LDL levels are less than 100 mg/dL.

HDL cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol because people with higher levels have less heart disease. Optimal levels are considered 60 mg/dL or higher, and low HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL is a marker of increased risk for heart disease.

Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) that are used for energy. Less than 150 mg/dL is considered healthy, and more than 200 mg/dL is high.

“Other factors can contribute to cardiovascular disease and stroke, such as markers of inflammation, but knowing these numbers is a good place to start to understand your individual risk,” said Ballantyne.

“Your doctor will be able to help you decide how to adjust your lifestyle or what type of treatment is best for your heart health.”


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