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Knowledge is power and can save your life.

Heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Because of this staggering statistic, St. David’s HealthCare recommends taking steps to reduce your risk factors and knowing the important indicators of your health.

Dr. Suzanne Wetherold explains why “knowing your numbers” and family history can lead to a longer, healthier life.

What are the key indicators for heart health?

Medical conditions strongly correlated with heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight. As such, it is important to know the following numbers:

• Blood pressure – the force of blood against the arteries when the heart beats and rests
• Cholesterol – a fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body
• Glucose levels – sugar stored in the blood as the body’s main source of energy
• Body mass index (BMI) – the measurement of body fat based on weight and height

Most of these numbers are tested at annual checkups, so it’s important to “know your numbers” and understand what they mean. By keeping these numbers within the recommended healthy range, individuals can improve their heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Also, it is just as important that people know their family history and risk of hereditary diseases. Patients should share this information with their healthcare providers to evaluate risks and determine steps toward prevention.

What are the target numbers for a healthy heart?

• Blood pressure should typically be less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic for an adult age 20 or over.
• A total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL is considered optimal.
• A BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 and a waistline smaller than 35 inches is considered healthy.
• A normal blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL after fasting, and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating.

When measuring these key indicators, be aware of where you stand—and also pay attention to where you are going. If your numbers are high, but trending down with each check, that’s a sign you’re on the right path to a healthier heart.

At what age should women “know their numbers”?

The earlier the better! Heart disease can occur at any age, and it can take years before any symptoms appear. According to the American Heart Association, prevention of a heart attack begins at age 20. Visit your doctor for regular checkups and become aware of your heart health numbers. The frequency of follow-up visits will depend on each person’s level of risk.

What can women do to reduce their risk of heart disease?

Healthy numbers mean a healthy heart. Women can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease by taking the following steps:

1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.
2. Exercise regularly. Try to walk, run, bike or dance at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
3. Quit smoking and limit alcohol.
4. Manage stress by getting enough sleep, taking time for yourself and using meditation or calming techniques.
5. Visit a physician regularly for annual health checks and determine high-risk medical conditions.

Disease prevention is a numbers game that can be controlled. Take steps to be aware and accountable. “Knowing your numbers”—and how they compare to healthy, normal levels—is a powerful way to take charge of your health.

Heart Hospital of Austin offers an easy screening for heart disease. In just minutes, a HeartSaver CT scan can detect heart disease in its earliest and most treatable stages—long before there are any symptoms. Similar to having an X-ray, the screening is fast, painless and highly accurate in determining the extent of calcified blockage in the coronary arteries. Women ages 45-70 can self-refer for the screening. If outside that age range, a physician referral is required.

Suzanne Wetherold, M.D. is a cardiologist at Austin Heart. She practices at Heart Hospital of Austin, which is part of St. David’s HealthCare.

Pictured above: The HeartSaver CT at Heart Hospital of Austin.

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