Awareness and early detection of the major risk factors for heart disease can prevent major complications like strokes or heart attacks and help save lives—including your own. Take an active role in decreasing your risk for heart disease by asking your doctor four important questions.
- What is my “bad” cholesterol level and what should it be?
Low density lipoprotein (LDL), often known as “bad” cholesterol, is a particle in the blood most directly linked to cholesterol buildup, or “plaque,” in the arteries—which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Decreasing LDL levels can significantly decrease the risk of heart disease or stroke. The ideal goal varies from less than 160 in people with no risk factors to less than 70 for individuals who already have heart disease. Your physician should explain your specific LDL goal and how to reach that goal as soon as possible, usually through cholesterol-lowering medications called “statins.”
- What is my blood pressure level and what should it be?
Hypertension is defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90. Elevated blood pressure significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.
A systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 120 to 139 or a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 80 to 89 without the use of hypertensive medications is called pre-hypertension.
The goal of hypertension therapy is to get blood pressure down to less than 140/90. For those with heart or kidney disease, diabetes, and other significant risk factors, the goal is to reduce blood pressure to less than 130/80. If you have cardiomyopathy (heart disease and a weak heart), the goal is less than 120/80.
- What is my fasting blood sugar level and what does it mean?
If your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) is greater than 100 after an overnight fast, you may have “insulin resistance.” This is a risk factor for developing diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease. A blood sugar greater than 126 indicates diabetes, requiring more aggressive management of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Do I have blockages in my neck or leg arteries?
A blockage in the neck or carotid arteries is a leading cause of stroke. Blockages in the leg arteries frequently cause discomfort in the legs while walking. Both indicate some form of coronary heart disease (blockages in the heart arteries).
Your doctor can evaluate blockages in these blood vessels by listening to each artery with a stethoscope. If a simple sound wave test called an ultrasound indicates a blockage, your physician will take a more aggressive approach to lower your LDL and control your blood pressure. Awareness and early detection of the major risk factors for heart disease can prevent major complications like strokes or heart attacks and help save lives—including your own. Take an active role in decreasing your risk for heart disease by asking your doctor four important questions.
Michael R. Geer, MD, FACC, Medical Director of the Erlanger Hypertension Management Center (located inside the Chattanooga LifeStyle Center), is board-certified in internal medicine, hypertension, and cardiology. He is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the UT College of Medicine Chattanooga.