Put Your Heart to the Test
If you are heading to the doctor’s office for a routine physical and blood test, and you are over the age of 20, the following four screenings will likely be part of the exam and for good reason. According to the American Heart Association, 2,150 Americans die from cardiovascular diseases every day – that’s one every 40 seconds.
While the following tests don’t diagnose disease, the results, along with age, weight, lifestyle and genetic factors, can predict a person’s risk of heart disease. “The bottom line is that we want to detect heart disease risk early, so we can do something about it,” says Barbara Fletcher, registered nurse, president of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association and clinical associate professor at the Brooks College of Health School of Nursing, at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. “For the most part,” she adds, “all of these risks can be impacted by diet and exercise and, if needed, stress management.”
1. Resting Heart Rate
Today, resting heart rate is used as much more than an indicator of fitness level; it is used as a risk factor for early death from heart disease and other conditions. A 2013 Danish study reported that those who have resting heart rates of 80 beats per minute die four to five years earlier than those who have pulses of 65 beats per minute. Pulse measurement is routine, but for many sitting in a doctor’s office isn’t relaxing. A more accurate resting heart rate can be determined by measuring the heart rate first thing in the morning before getting out of bed.
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2. Blood Pressure
“High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure, so it’s very important for it to be controlled,” Fletcher says. A normal adult blood pressure is below 120/80. The systolic pressure, the top number, measures pressure in the arteries while the heart beats. The diastolic pressure measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. Without diagnostic testing, the first symptom of hypertension may actually be a heart attack or stroke.
Cholesterol levels that are too high or low, depending on the type of cholesterol, coupled with other risk factors, can predict the risk of heart disease and stroke. A typical blood panel provides levels for both high-density lipoprotein (HDL, “good” cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol) cholesterol levels. An HDL level less than 40 mg/dL is considered low and an LDL level less than 100 mg/dL is optimal.
Triglycerides are a common type of fat in the body. High triglyceride levels, particularly when combined with low-HDL or high-LDL levels can speed up atherosclerosis, the buildup of fat deposits on artery walls, which increases risk of heart disease. Triglyceride level should be 150 mg/Dl or less.
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