it comes to monitoring your heart health, interpreting all of the
various numbers and levels involved can be overwhelming. There’s
blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index, and then there
is cholesterol—both the good and the bad! It may seem that
there are so many different indicators that it’s hard to
keep track. But once you understand how each test relates to your
heart, things make a whole lot more sense. Read below to learn
more about the numbers your doctor uses to measure your heart health,
and what you can do to keep an eye on them yourself.
When there is too much bad cholesterol in your blood, it builds up on the walls
of your arteries, narrowing them and slowing or blocking blood flow to the
heart. Like atherosclerosis, high blood cholesterol is directly related to
heart disease, particularly heart
That means that, essentially, the higher your blood
cholesterol the higher your chance for developing heart disease.
It’s very important to know what your blood cholesterol
level is so that you can take the proper steps to lower it if
you need to. That’s why it is recommended that you get
your cholesterol measured at least once every five years—no
matter how old you are.
The blood test that measures your blood cholesterol level is done
after a 9- to 12-hour fast. It provides information about your
total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol)
and triglycerides. LDL is called bad cholesterol because it is
the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries.
HDL is called good cholesterol because it helps to keep bad cholesterol
from building up in the arteries. In fact, HDL actually helps to
prevent heart disease. That’s why higher numbers for HDL
and lower numbers for LDL are most desirable. As a woman, you have
higher HDL cholesterol levels than men. That’s because estrogen
raises HDL cholesterol. And that’s why women tend to have
the highest levels of HDL during their childbearing years. Women
also tend to have higher triglyceride levels. Although triglyceride
levels have not been isolated as an independent cause of heart
disease, patients with higher triglyceride levels often have other
risk factors that lead to heart disease, such as high total cholesterol,
obesity and high blood pressure. Patients with high triglyceride
levels usually have lower HDL levels as well. Triglyceride levels
help physicians to identify risk for heart disease, but are not
used on their own to determine this risk.
The total blood cholesterol level is the number that measures
the combination of good and bad cholesterol in your blood. When
you get your cholesterol tested, you also learn your levels of
both LDL and HDL. It’s important to remember that you want
a higher level of HDL (over 50 mg/dL) and a lower level of LDL
(less than 160 mg/dL). Cholesterol levels are measured in terms
of milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
That is the proportion that the letters at the end of your results
Total blood cholesterol is the most common measurement of cholesterol,
and the number you will most likely discuss with your doctor. It’s
important to ask about your HDL and LDL levels as well. According
to the American Heart Association, your total blood cholesterol
level will either be desirable, borderline high risk or high risk.
You may also get a reading of your LDL or HDL cholesterol levels
in addition to your total blood cholesterol level.
A desirable total blood cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL.
That means that, barring any other risk factors, you are at a relatively
low risk for heart attack. Even if you have a desirable blood cholesterol
level, you may be at risk for heart disease otherwise. Keep on track
to a healthy heart and remember to get your cholesterol levels
measured every five years.
If your cholesterol level is between 200 and 239 mg/dL then, you
are at borderline high risk. This means you should closely monitor
your cholesterol level by getting checked every year. You should
also take the appropriate measures to care for your heart health.
If your total cholesterol level is 240 mg/dL or more, you are
at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Actually, people whose
cholesterol level is greater than 240 have twice the risk of coronary
heart disease as those whose level is 200. If you fall into this
category, talk to your physician about a low cholesterol diet,
medication and other steps you can take to lower your blood cholesterol.
High blood cholesterol does not cause any symptoms by itself.
Far too many people, especially women, are unaware that their blood
cholesterol level is too high. When it comes to blood cholesterol
levels, the best thing you can do is remember to get tested no
matter how healthy you feel.
pressure is literally that–the pressure of blood against
the walls of the arteries. It results from the force created
by the heart while it contracts to pump blood into the body as
well as the force of the arteries as they resist blood flow.
blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease because
it makes your heart work harder than normal to pump enough blood
and oxygen to your body. And when your heart is forced to work
that hard for an extended amount of time, it may become enlarged
or weakened. High blood pressure also negatively affects your
arteries. High blood pressure damages the artery walls and can
speed up the hardening and scarring of arteries. It also contributes
to atherosclerosis. High blood pressure impairs your heart’s
ability to pump blood out to your body, and it also impairs your
body’s ability to transport that blood throughout your
body. Without the proper nutrients and oxygen from a healthy
blood flow, your tissues and organs can’t work properly.
That’s why high blood pressure not only contributes to
heart disease, but also to problems with other organs and tissues
in your body. Lastly, high blood pressure increases your risk
of developing a blood clot.
Blood pressure, as you may already know, is measured in two numbers—one “over” the
other. The higher number is the systolic pressure, which represents
the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body.
The lower number is the diastolic pressure, which represents the
pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.
According The American Heart Association, blood pressure below
120 over 80 is considered optimal for adults. A blood pressure
reading of 140 over 90 or higher is considered high. Remember that
one high reading is not a clear indicator of high blood pressure.
Talk to your doctor about monitoring your blood pressure if you
have one high reading. Hypertension is the medical term for high
blood pressure. The only way to really tell if you have high blood
pressure is to have your levels checked regularly. There are no
physical symptoms of high blood pressure alone.
Although you see blood pressure reading devices at the gym, in
the pharmacy and at other random public places, it’s very
important that you have your physician take your blood pressure
reading. Although it’s responsible to measure it yourself,
and some physicians advise patients with chronic hypertension to
take their blood pressure readings at home, you can only really
depend on a certified medical professional to interpret your blood
Many factors contribute to high blood pressure, and many of these
factors are the same factors that contribute to heart disease in
general. They include:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Race – According to the American Heart Association, African
Americans are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Increasing age – Blood pressure tends to increase with
age, especially after the age of 55 for women.
- Sodium sensitivity
- Obesity and overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Diabetes mellitus, gout and kidney disease
- Use of some oral contraceptives and other medications – If
you are taking oral contraceptives, you are more likely to develop
high blood pressure only if you are overweight, have already
had high blood pressure during pregnancy, have a family history
of high blood pressure or have kidney disease.
- Pregnancy – Some women who have never had high blood
pressure in their life develop it during pregnancy. Women are
at an even greater risk of developing high blood pressure during
the last three months of pregnancy.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, you will need to keep
a close eye on your heart health and monitor your blood pressure.
Speak to your physician about other steps you can take to lower
your blood pressure, including certain medications.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
If you have too much fat in your body, then you are at a higher risk for developing
high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. These are all contributing
factors to heart disease and stroke. Not only that—obesity is now recognized
as a major, independent risk factor for developing heart disease. That’s
why it’s so important to keep an eye on your bad fat intake (such as
trans fat) and diet, to keep physically active and to not only watch your
weight but also watch your BMI.
The BMI shows the ratio of your weight to your height. It’s
based on a mathematical formula that divides your weight in kilograms
by the square of your height in meters. The BMI is designed to
show your percentage of body fat. Guidelines for determining obesity
are based on a collection of data from a population of people representative
of the population of the U.S. The chart below will show you your
BMI. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is indicative of overweight, and a BMI
of 30 or over is considered obese.
There are other ways to monitor your body’s fat, such as
your waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. However, these
tests are less popular and slightly less accurate than the BMI.
Your doctor will be able to perform other tests, such as waist
circumference measurement, blood tests and family history, to identify
risks and obesity level.
Blood Glucose Level
According to some studies, your blood glucose level may be related to heart
disease. Although many of these studies are fairly new, blood glucose provides
a new tool for physicians to weigh when determining the risk level of a patient
for heart disease. Blood glucose levels are helpful for determining risk
in diabetic patients, but studies have shown that they may also be beneficial
when determining risk in non-diabetic patients.
Your blood glucose level is measured by looking for Hemoglobin
A1c (HbA1c), which is a long-term measure of your blood glucose
level. There are many successful clinical trials that are going
on that will help to show if blood glucose levels are helpful in
decreasing cardiovascular risk in patients without diabetes.
Click below to read about related topics.
A Healthy Heart
Understanding the Risks
Steps You Can Take Today
On the Road to
a Healthy Heart