Key numbers for heart health: Cholesterol and blood pressure
Cholesterol and blood pressure play a major role in the overall health of our heart. High blood pressure and poor cholesterol numbers are considered major risk factors for the development of heart disease and stroke.
It’s important for everyone to know their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, and to stay within recommended goal ranges. We encourage everyone to work with their primary care provider to evaluate and treat their risk factors for heart disease.
Below are a few common questions we hear.
How often should I have my cholesterol checked?
Once every five years, adults over age 20 should have a fasting lipoprotein profile – which measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides (another blood fat), according to recommendations from the National Cholesterol Education program.
You may need to have your cholesterol checked more often than every five years if one or more of these situations applies to you:
Your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dl or more.
You are a man over age 45 or a woman over age 50.
Your HDL (good) cholesterol is less than 40/mg/dL.
You have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and early onset of heart disease in your immediate family history.
Your health care provider is treating you for high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors.
What are HDL and LDL, and why do they matter?
Cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported by carriers called lipoproteins. There are two types of these lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is known as the “bad” type of cholesterol because its ability to build up on the inner walls of the arteries of the heart and vascular system. This can cause narrowing in the arteries leading to clots or blockages which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Too much LDL cholesterol in the blood can increase this risk. Optimal levels of LDL recommended are 100 mg/dL or less.
HDL is known as the “good” type of cholesterol because high levels of HDL seem to protect against risk of heart attacks. Medical experts believe that HDL helps to carry cholesterol away from the arteries to be broken down in the liver and removed. The higher the HDL level, the greater the chance that the cholesterol is being removed.
Optimal HDL should be above 50 mg/dL or greater.
How can I improve my cholesterol numbers?
Everyone can work to improve their cholesterol numbers and reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by eating a low fat diet, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and increasing fiber in their diet.
You should consult with your health care provider to evaluate your cardiovascular disease risk and whether you may need medication in addition to diet and exercise.
How often should I check my blood pressure?
Have your blood pressure checked every year. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 or greater. If your blood pressure is 130/85 or greater it should be watched closely and you should consult your health care provider.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is considered the “quiet” disease because there usually are no symptoms. Knowing your numbers and seeking treatment when indicated can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage. Things that everyone can do to help improve blood pressure levels include weight loss, salt reduction, stress reduction, cardiovascular exercise, and a healthy diet.
What can be done to reduce high blood pressure?
We have seen patients improve their blood pressure and cholesterol levels through diet and exercise alone. However, in many cases patients may require medication to help them reach their optimal numbers and reduce their overall risk for heart disease and stroke. Consult a primary care provider if you have concerns.
MultiCare’s Center for Healthy Living also offers a variety of programs to help improve your health.
Glenn Bean, MS, FAACVPR, is a Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Preventive Cardiology at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.
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