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February is most commonly known for the Valentine’s Day, The Superbowl and The Daytona 500, February is also dedicated to heart health.

A leading cause of death for men and women

Thanks to organizations like the American Heart Association and days like ‘Go Red for Women,’ Americans have started to pay attention to heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in our country. The main topic of conversation around heart health is prevention. Americans of all genders, ages and ethnicities need to know that they can reduce their risk of heart disease with the right knowledge and management.

Throughout February, we will be sharing a series of posts to celebrate Heart Health Month and arm our customers with the information and tools they need to maintain a heart-healthy life. We’re starting with Heart Numbers 101 – the numbers used to assess your risk for developing a heart condition. We’ll then provide tips and tools for tracking those numbers and round out the month with a post on easy and fun ways to live heart-healthy all year.  

Heart Numbers 101

Terms like cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) can be intimidating, especially when there are good and bad types or a calculation is required. We’re here to help you tackle that intimidation head-on with a 101 guide on the heart numbers you need to know and track. Ideal ranges for each indicator listed are found in the charts below. These numbers are used to calculate your future risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol circulates in your blood and is a building block of cells. It comes from two sources, your liver and the food from animals (meat, poultry, dairy). There are three types of cholesterol.

Here is what you need to know about each:

LDL: The bad cholesterol that contributes to plaque buildups in, and clogs the arteries

HDL: The good cholesterol that clears buildup and forces the LDL to return to the liver

Triglycerides: Body fat that contributes to fatty buildups based on your LDL and HDL levels.

 

You are at an increased risk for a heart attack or stroke if high triglycerides levels are combined with low HDL or high LDL.

Here are goals for a patient without heart disease:

Total Cholesterol LDL HDL Triglycerides
Below 200 mg/dL Below 100 mg/dL Above 50(F),40 (M) mg/dL Below 150 mg/dL

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure in your arteries. It is measured by two numbers, systolic and diastolic pressure. Both are important to track as high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Systolic Pressure: Indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart is in the beating phase

Diastolic Pressure: Indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart is in the resting phase

It is important to frequently check your blood pressure, as high blood pressure doesn’t have a common list of symptoms and is known as the “silent killer.”

Systolic Pressure Diastolic Pressure
Below 130* Hg Below 80 Hg

*The Systolic pressure number was recently changed by the American College of Cardiology from 120 to 130 to allow for earlier intervention.

 Blood Sugar

Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the number that determines how well your body uses insulin (a hormone that helps the body create energy). Your blood sugar numbers are the primary indicator of prediabetes or diabetes, both of which cause damage to the heart.

Blood Sugar Prediabetes Diabetes
Below 100 mg/dL 100-125 mg/dL Above 126 mg/dL

BMI

BMI stands for body mass index, a ratio of your weight and height. A high BMI indicates that a person is overweight, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and/or Type 2 diabetes. Being underweight can also increase someone’s risk for cardiovascular disease due to low heart function and a lack of physical activity.

Normal BMI Overweight Underweight
Below 25 Above 25 Below 18.5

Waist Circumference

The circumference of the waist indicates how much weight is carried in your midsection. While people carry their weight differently (think “apple” vs. “pear” shape), those that carry their weight around their waist are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke or diabetes.

Female Waist Size Male Waist Size
Below 35 Below 40

 

Keeping track of numbers is human nature – we are trained to memorize birthdays and phone numbers at an early age. As we mature, we keep a pulse of our bank account numbers and stock prices. It is now time to store and track a couple more numbers, your heart numbers. Doing so could ultimately save your life.

Related: Here are a few tips and free ways you can track your heart numbers.

Dr. Larry Wu

About Dr. Larry Wu

Larry Wu, MD is a regional medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and provides consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He is a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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