Take Control of Your Heart Disease Risk

Stethoscope laid out in the shape of a heart

How go the New Year’s resolutions? Unfortunately, most people who make a New Year’s resolution fail to keep it. Vague goals of “getting healthy” typically go by the wayside before the end of January. Instead, stick with specific targets that are realistic and achievable.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease that results in heart attacks, strokes and heart failure is responsible for about 1 in 4 deaths in the United States.

Resolve to be proactive about your heart health in 2023. Here are three things you can do starting today.

1. Learn about heart disease and understand your risk

The first step you can take toward improving your heart health is one of the easiest. Simply learning more about heart disease, what causes it, what symptoms to look for, and how lifestyle choices affect it can start you down the road to a healthier heart.

Information on heart health is just a click away.

BJC HealthCare offers a free heart health risk quiz. This quick assessment can help you discover important information about your heart health and risks factors. It will:

  • Compare your actual age to your heart's biological age.

  • Calculate your 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you are younger than 60, you will also learn your 30-year risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Prioritize your most harmful cardiovascular risk factors.

2. Know your numbers

Some screening results can be used to determine an individual’s current heart health status and risk. Early identification of certain risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, for example, may help prevent more serious problems down the road. It’s important to understand what your health screening numbers mean and why you should share the results with your primary care physician.

  • Blood pressure. Target: 120/80 mm HG or lower.

    Blood pressure measures the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries and is an indicator of cardiovascular health and stress levels. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and visual problems. It often has no symptoms. Blood pressure includes two numbers. The top number, called systolic pressure, represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. A reading of 120-129 is elevated; 130-139 is stage 1 high blood pressure; 140 or more is stage 2 hypertension; 180 or more is a hypertensive crisis. The bottom number, called diastolic pressure, represents the pressure in your vessels when your heart rests between beats. For those 50 and older, extended high systolic blood pressure can increase your risk for a stroke or heart attack.

  • Waist circumference. Target: non-pregnant women should have a waist circumference less than 35 inches, and men should have a waist circumference less than 40 inches.

    Carrying extra weight around the middle puts you at higher risk for heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes. Waist circumference is measured around the waist at the belly button.

  • Body Mass Index (BMI). Target: between 18.5 and 25

    Body Mass Index (BMI) is your body weight relative to your height. Find your BMI. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered normal. A BMI of 26-30 is overweight and a BMI higher than 30 indicates obesity. High numbers have been associated with increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, gall bladder disease and sleep apnea. Note: Muscle weighs more than fat, so exceptionally muscular people may have a high BMI.

  • Blood sugar. Target: 70-100 mg/dL (after fasting for eight hours)

    A finger-stick blood draw can show how much sugar (glucose) is in your blood. A high level of sugar in your bloodstream is a sign of diabetes, a disease that can harm every organ in your body while also damaging nerves and blood vessels. Adults with diabetes are two-to-four times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than adults without diabetes. If your fasting number is more than 126 mg/dL, you may be at risk for diabetes.

  • Cholesterol: LDL target: less than 100 mg/dL. HDL target: greater than 50 mg/dL for women and greater than 45 mg/dL for men. Total cholesterol target: less than 200 mg/dL. Total cholesterol/HDL ratio target: less than 4.0 for women and less than 4.5 for men.

    Cholesterol, a fatty substance found in your body’s cells, helps your body make important vitamins and hormones, but too much of it can lead to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels, causing your arteries to harden and narrow, limiting the flow of blood to your heart. LDL (low density lipoprotein) deposits harmful fat in vessel walls; the higher your LDL, the greater your risk for heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) moves excess cholesterol from your arteries to your liver for disposal; the higher your HDL, the lower your chance of getting heart disease. TC (total cholesterol) represents your combined LDL and HDL numbers: 200-239 is borderline high; 240 or more is high. Some health screenings provide a TC/HDL ratio (divide your HDL into your total cholesterol number). A higher ratio means a higher risk for heart disease.

  • Triglycerides. Target: less than 150 mg/dL

    Triglycerides (fats) provide energy to your body. In excess, however, they can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Causes of excess triglycerides include overweight/obesity; physical inactivity; smoking; excess alcohol; and a high carbohydrate diet (60% of calories or higher). You should fast 12 hours before your test and abstain from alcohol 24 hours before your test.

3. Make heart healthy lifestyle choices

While you can’t change risk factors like age or heredity, you can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly by making healthy lifestyle choices. The American Heart Association recommends you follow seven simple steps:

  1. control your cholesterol

  2. reduce your blood sugar

  3. manage your blood pressure

  4. get active

  5. eat a heart-healthy diet

  6. manage your weight

  7. stop smoking

While some of these changes may seem daunting at first, you don’t have to do them all at once. Your health care provider can give you tools and connect you with resources to help you along the way.

Feel that you need to consult a heart specialist? With offices conveniently located around St. Louis and across Missouri and Illinois, BJC’s team of cardiologists and primary care physicians are ready to support you. Call 866-604-3365 or visit https://www.bjc.org/specialties/heart-and-vascular for more information or to schedule a consultation.

Want to be heart healthier in 2023? It all starts with a visit to your primary care doctor to discuss your health, your risks and your plan of action. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Find one today.

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