Features April 2017 Issue

How Well Do You Know Your Heart Health Facts and Figures?

A recent Cleveland Clinic survey suggests that many Americans have misconceptions about cardiovascular health in general, and their own numbers in particular.

You read Heart Advisor, pay attention to news about health and medical issues, and you listen to your cardiologist. But how much do you really know about cardiovascular health and your own key heart health numbers?

Holding A Heart

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To improve your cardiovascular health, make it a point to learn your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose level, and body mass index. Then make sure you know the targets for those factors and how to reach them.

If you’re like many Americans, you may have some misconceptions about blood pressure, cholesterol, and similar subjects. In Cleveland Clinic’s most recent heart health survey of Americans, for example, only four out of 10 people knew that a healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80†mm Hg. And 73 percent of the people surveyed were unaware that heart disease is the leading cause of death among people with†diabetes.

Heart disease also continues to be the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S.

“Heart disease causes one in every four deaths in the United States, so it’s troubling that so few Americans know the basics about their own heart health,” says Steven Nissen, MD, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Americans could take better control of their health by simply educating themselves about what factors are most important to their†health.”

Cleveland Clinic Heart Health Survey

LDL, HDL, Triglycerides

Despite the fact that cholesterol-lowering statins are among the most prescribed drugs in the world, there still appears to be a misunderstanding about cholesterol itself. The survey found that about half of the respondents didn’t know that your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol is an important number to know for your heart health. Likewise, only about 25 percent of those surveyed knew that high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol was the “good” cholesterol.

LDL is the cholesterol that forms waxy plaques inside your arteries≠—a process called atherosclerosis. When a plaque ruptures and spills out its contents into your bloodstream, platelets in your blood rush to the site to form a blood clot and contain he damage. Unfortunately, that clot can block blood flow. If it happens in a coronary artery (one of the arteries in the heart), the result can be a heart attack. If blood flow to the brain is blocked, you can have a stroke.

Atherosclerosis may seem like a problem for older adults only, but that’s not true. While older individuals are at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke, atherosclerosis is a process that builds up over many years. Knowing and managing your LDL levels should start when you’re young. In the Clinic’s survey, only 12 percent of respondents knew that people should start having their cholesterol checked between the ages of 18 and 24. This is particularly important in the U.S., where obesity, diabetes, a more sedentary lifestyle and other heart disease risk factors are becoming more common in younger adults.

The survey also found that the majority of Americans think triglycerides are a type of cholesterol. They are, in fact, a type of fat found in the blood. But they are grouped with LDL and HDL levels when you have your blood work done.

Know Your Body Type

While most people probably know that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for heart disease, the particulars of how weight and body type affect risk are less well understood.

Body Mass Index

BMI uses your height and weight to calculate your body fat. Itís not perfect, but it an give you an idea ow much weight you should lose.

For example, your body mass index (BMI) is a commonly used measurement to help determine your fitness, body fat, and heart risk. Your BMI is based on your height and weight. A higher BMI is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. To calculate your BMI and learn more about what measurements translate to normal weight, overweight, or obesity, visit http://bit.ly/1D0ZqDv, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s online BMI calculator.

In the survey, however, only a quarter of the respondents knew that a BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight. About half of those surveyed, though, did know that BMI was used to determine heart†risk.

Along with BMI, your body shape may have something to do with your risk of heart disease. You may have heard about a body being “apple-shaped” or “pear-shaped.” An apple shape means more weight is around the midsection. A pear-shaped person carries more weight around the hips and thighs, and has a smaller†waist.

In the survey, 34 percent of respondents correctly said that an apple-shaped body with a large waist circumference is a greater risk to heart health than a pear shape. In addition, 36 percent of those surveyed knew waist circumference is a factor used to determine heart risks.

Supplements for Heart Health?

Complementing a balanced diet with vitamins and supplements may be helpful for some health needs. Vitamin D and calcium supplements, for example, may be advisable for bone health. Iron-deficiency anemia may necessitate the need for iron supplements.

But there is little evidence to suggest that supplements, other than omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil, can improve or maintain heart health. However, two-thirds of survey respondents said they have taken supplements for heart health in†the†past.

Be Heart Smart

The basic advice for heart health includes daily exercise, no smoking, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. But the more you know about your heart disease risk factors (see box), the better you’ll be able to maintain good cardiovascular health and spot trouble early on.

If you have questions about your heart health numbers, talk with your doctor. If you’re overdue for your blood work to check for your cholesterol levels, fasting glucose (blood sugar), and other indicators, schedule a blood test soon. There are a few basic steps you can take every day to help keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible.

“Studies have suggested the majority of coronary artery disease events can be prevented by addressing treatable risk factors,” Dr.†Nissen says. “That means a little knowledge regarding your ‘numbers’ could go a long way to helping keep your heart healthy and avoiding future ≠problems.”

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