heart health heart disease boulder community healthAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, that's nearly one person every 37 seconds. In a recent health lecture, BCH cardiologist Dr. Molly Ware spoke about heart health, the importance of understanding one's risk factors and keeping track of critical health numbers.

Know Your Numbers

Dr. Ware said that one way to stay on top of heart disease is to understand one's risk factors and critical health numbers. The six important numbers one should know include:

  • High blood pressure: Even if treated, high blood pressure can damage your heart as well as increase your risk for stroke. While it can fluctuate with exercise, stress or sleep, try to keep your blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg.
  • High cholesterol: This is considered a risk because it can build up on the walls of the arteries. LDL cholesterol levels should remain below 100 mg/dL, while HDL levels should be 50 mg/dL or higher for women, and 45 mg/dL or higher for men.
  • Non-HDL cholesterol: This is calculated by subtracting your HDL level from your total cholesterol number. Keep your non-HDL below 130 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides: This is a type of fat that can contribute to the hardening of arteries. Optimal triglyceride levels are less than 150 mg/dL.
  • Diabetes: This can damage blood vessels over time, leading to heart disease. An A1C test can measure blood sugar levels. Target an A1C level of less than seven percent.
  • Excess weight: Extra weight makes your heart work harder and can have negative impacts. Body mass index (BMI) is a good indicator of healthy weights. It's a measure of your weight in relation to your height and is calculated in conjunction with your waist circumference. A BMI between 18.5-24.9 (kg/m2) and waist circumference under 35 inches indicates a healthy weight.

Additional risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Age of more than 55 years
  • Sedentary lifestyle/lack of exercise

Screening Tests Can Be a Wake-Up Call

“Sometimes heart disease is silent and people don’t even know they have it until they experience a heart attack, heart valve problems or irregular heartbeat,” Dr. Ware warned. In fact, almost two-thirds of those who experience sudden cardiac death have no previous symptoms. “Regular screenings help us treat the risk factor with lifestyle changes and medications. They can be a wake-up call about the threat of heart disease or a life-threatening cardiac event.”

Dr. Ware described some of the newest screening tests for assessing heart health:

  • Coronary artery calcium scoring: Based on a CT scan, this looks for plaque buildup inside the heart’s major vessels. It is helpful for people who have borderline risk factors.
  • Lipoprotein testing: Lipoprotein, or Lp(a), is a particle in your blood that carries cholesterol. Elevated levels of lipoprotein have been shown to increase the risk of atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in the wall of arteries.
  • Measures of inflammation: A hs-CRP test measures the level of C-reactive protein in your blood, which tends to be elevated when there’s inflammation in your body, including within the arteries. However, this test is nonspecific and elevated levels of CRP might occur for any type of inflammatory condition.
  • Carotid artery thickness: This is measured through an ultrasound exam and looks at the plaque buildup in the arteries of the neck, serving as a predictor of plaque buildup within the arteries of the heart.

If you wish to understand your risk factors for heart disease or to be screened, schedule an appointment with Molly Ware, MD by calling 303-442-2395.