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Women's Health: Keep Your Numbers in Check for Heart Health
Keep Your Numbers in Check for Heart Health
by Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women. A shocking 38 million women are living with heart disease in the US today. Do you know your risk of developing heart disease?
Health indicator numbers, such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol and sugar levels can help you determine your personal risk for developing heart disease. Once you know you personal numbers, you can work with your doctor to improve those in dangerous ranges and maintain the healthy ones.
BMI measures body fat in relation to height and weight. A BMI lower than 25 is within normal range and is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Women with BMIs in the overweight (25-29.9) or obese (30 or greater) range can significantly reduce heart disease risk by losing about 10% of their total body weight.
Abdominal fat around the waistline may signal a higher likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, or stroke. To find out your waist circumference, place a measuring tape snuggly around your waist and note the number. Women with a waist measurement of 35 inches or more are at increased risk.
Your body naturally makes all the cholesterol you need. However, genetics and lifestyle factors-such as consuming a diet high in animal fats-may cause excess cholesterol to build up in your arteries and set the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
Your doctor can measure your total cholesterol, LDL ("bad" cholesterol), HDL ("good" cholesterol), and triglyceride levels. Ideally, a woman's total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, LDL less than 100 mg/dL, HDL 60 mg/dL or greater, and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. ACOG recommends that women be screened for high cholesterol every five years, beginning at age 45. Women with preexisting risk factors for cardiovascular disease should begin screening earlier.
High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, puts added strain on the blood vessels, and raises the risk of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney problems. Have your blood pressure checked annually or more often if it's elevated. Aim to keep your blood pressure lower than 120/80 mm Hg.
Elevated blood sugar may signal that you are at risk for developing-or already have-diabetes. Diabetic women have a three to seven times higher risk of heart disease than nondiabetic women. ACOG recommends that women 45 and older have a fasting blood glucose test (taken after fasting for at least eight hours) every three years. Fasting blood sugar levels below 100 mg/dL are considered normal. Healthy lifestyle habits can also help improve your numbers. Consume a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined carbohydrates. Get 30 to 90 minutes of exercise on most days of the week and quit smoking. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to lower your risk.
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