Focus on your heart during American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, as declared by the American Heart Association, the month to raise awareness of the importance of heart health. Caring for your heart begins with knowing your starting point. The numbers you will need are your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Fortunately, getting these numbers is relatively simple. Your primary care provider takes your blood pressure every time you walk in the office – it’s that important! A simple blood test will tell you your cholesterol and the amount of sugar in your blood. Looking at these numbers with your provider will tell you if your heart is healthy or if you need to look at making changes to lower your risk of heart disease or having a stroke.

What the numbers mean

  • Blood pressure tells you how hard your heart is working to pump blood through your body. High blood pressure means your heart is working harder and causes stress to your heart and blood vessels – particularly if they are partly clogged. Too much stress on your heart and vascular system can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other problems.  Normal blood pressure is under 120/80, based on new guidelines from the American Heart Association.
  • Cholesterol, put in its simplest terms, is a type of fat found in your blood. A build-up of cholesterol can block your arteries, cutting off the flow of blood throughout your body. A total cholesterol number under 180 is in the normal range.
  • Blood sugar is an important measurement because having too much sugar in your blood can damage your vessels and nerves – as well as being an indication that you may have diabetes or prediabetes. Average numbers range between 70 and 130.

Talk to your doctor

To find out your numbers, talk to your healthcare provider. Getting an initial measurement of these numbers can help you set goals with your provider to improve them, if they are not in the normal ranges. Exercising more, making changes in your diet, quitting smoking and even stress management can all affect your numbers – and your heart health.

Finally, looking at your family’s heart history can help you know if you are more at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Your chances of developing heart disease increase if your close relatives (grandparents, mother, father or siblings) have had a heart attack, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure. And, if you are at a higher risk, you have a much greater need to know and monitor your numbers.