The first number you need to know: Heart disease is #1 killer of women

Cardiovascular disease takes the life of one in three women. Studies show the majority of women are unaware of the danger they face from heart attack and stroke. And experts say most women are so busy taking care of those around them, they fail to take care of themselves. Let’s change that. It’s time to start taking care of you.

1. Cholesterol - a fat-like substance in the blood and cells. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries and restrict blood flow. This can also lead to blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Research shows LDL cholesterol is a better predictor of your risk for heart disease than the total cholesterol number. A high or very high LDL level could represent genetic cause, and should be discussed further with your physician.

Total cholesterol
Desirable less than 200 mg/dl
Borderline high 200–239 mg/dl
High 240 mg/dl or more
LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
Optimal less than 100 mg/dl
Near optimal 100–129 mg/dl
Borderline 130–159 mg/dl
High 160–189 mg/dl
Very high 190 mg/dl or more
HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Optimal 50 mg/dl or more

3. Triglycerides – a type of fat found in your body, stored in your fat cells. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides. Excess triglycerides in blood have been linked to coronary artery disease.

Desirable less than 150 mg/dl
Borderline 150–199 mg/dl
High 200–499 mg/dl
Very high 500 mg/dl or more

4. Blood pressure – the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. The first number (systolic) measures as the heart pumps out the blood, the second (diastolic) as the heart rests between beats. High blood pressure puts more stress on your heart and arteries. It contributes to heart attacks, heart failure and atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in the arteries).

Blood pressure
Normal systolic below 120 and diastolic below 80
Prehypertension systolic 120–129 or diastolic below 80
Hypertension stage 1 systolic 130–139 or diastolic 80–89
Hypertension stage 2 systolic 140+ or diastolic 90+

5. Blood sugar – the concentration of glucose in the blood. High blood sugar can lead to diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of early death among people with diabetes.

Blood sugar
Normal less than 100 mg/dl

6. Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference – an indicator of body fatness for most people. (To compute yours: multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Divide by your height in inches. Divide again by your height in inches.) Waist circumference is simply the distance around your natural waist, just above the navel. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for coronary heart disease and many other health problems.

Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference
Healthy BMI less than 25 kg/m2
Healthy waist circumference under 35 inches

Your obstetric history and heart disease

Did you have preeclampsia, high blood pressure, or diabetes with any of your pregnancies? If you had high blood pressure or diabetes with pregnancy, you are more likely to develop these conditions as you get older, which may increase your risk of heart disease. If you had preeclampsia during pregnancy, you have twice the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future, meaning your risk is similar to having diabetes and high cholesterol.

Health exams for women and checking up on your numbers

Women over age 20 should get a general physical, including a blood pressure check, once a year, and have their blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides tested every five years. (Women over 50 may need cholesterol and triglyceride tests more often.)

Once you have your physical and know your numbers, ask your doctor if there’s any cause for concern—and if so, what to do. Of course, eating right, exercising regularly, reducing stress and not smoking will help improve your numbers and your overall health.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 484.476.3WHI (3944).