Know the numbers for heart disease prevention
February 15, 2010 · 2:53 PM
By Dr. Jude Verzosa
For The Courier-Herald
Coronary heart disease is the single major cause of death, and stroke the No. 3 killer in the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they are at risk or even have heart disease. It is a silent killer with few, if any, symptoms.
The good news is it can be controlled and often prevented. Talk with your doctor and understand your risk. While the outward symptoms aren’t always noticeable, there are tests that will help detect the disease.
About one in three adults has high blood pressure, which can damage heart and blood vessels. It is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and increases the risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. Getting tested is important because most people with high blood pressure have no noticeable symptoms.
Adults older than age 20 should have their blood pressur-e checked every two years. If readings are high or there are other risk factors for heart disease, they should have this checked more regularly.
There are two numbers given in a blood pressure reading. The top number, systolic pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries between beats.
If blood pressure is too high, treatment is necessary to prevent damage to your body’s organs.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. The body needs some cholesterol to work properly. Too much bad cholesterol can turn to plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow or become blocked.
Cholesterol levels tend to rise with age and don’t typically show symptoms. The risk of having high cholesterol is higher among those who have a family history of the disease, are obese or eat a lot of fatty foods.
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up the total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test. When too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
Cholesterol testing is recommended for adults at least once every five years. The blood test is called a lipoprotein profile. The test measures four things:
1.Total cholesterol – under 200 is considered good.
2.LDL cholesterol – under 130 is good. For those with heart disease or diabetes, this number should be below 100.
3.HDL cholesterol – above 60 helps protect against heart disease. Anything below 40 presents a major risk factor for heart disease.
4.Triglycerides - Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. This number should stay under 150.
Better known to most as blood sugar, blood glucose tests measure the amount of sugar in blood. Maintaining a normal level of blood glucose is important for brain function as well as providing the body with energy and keeping metabolism up. It will also indicate diabetes or a likelihood of developing the disease. Diabetes is an important risk factor for heart disease and other medical disorders.
Fasting plasma glucose levels of 126 mg/dL or higher in two tests on different days indicates diabetes. Levels between 100 and 125 mg/dL mean that there is an increased risk of developing diabetes and prediabetes. Glucose should be tested at least every three years, beginning at age 45. If there are other risk factors for diabetes, this should be done at a younger age and more often.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do reduce your chances of getting heart disease. Talk to your doctor and get actively involved in your health. Make sure you get regular physicals and do the following:
• Know your blood pressure and keep it under control
• Exercise regularly
• Don’t smoke
• Get tested for diabetes
• Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control
• Eat fruits and vegetables
• Maintain a healthy weight
Remember Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when caring for your health.
Dr. Jude Verzosa is an American Board of Internal Medicine certified Internist and a Hospital Medicine physician. He serves as the vice president for the Enumclaw Regional Hospital’s medical staff. He works at Enumclaw Medical Center, part of the Franciscan Medical Group.