Advertisement

6 Numbers a Woman Must Know to Protect Her Heart

Heart disease is a leading killer of women. Tracking these numbers could potentially save your life.

1 / 8

In years past, it was commonly assumed that heart disease affected men more than women. But that's not the case. In fact, heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States, responsible for one in every four deaths.

The most common form is coronary artery disease (CAD). When you have CAD, it means the arteries that supply blood to your heart become hardened or blocked. CAD affects between 6 and 7 percent of women in the U.S.

Ignoring the risk of heart disease can be dangerous. But learning certain key heart health numbers from your physician—and keeping tabs on those numbers—can help you protect yourself. Here are the six most important to know.

Medically reviewed in October 2020.

BLOOD PRESSURE RANGE

2 / 8 BLOOD PRESSURE RANGE

High blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, dementia, vision loss and sexual dysfunction. A reading at or above 130 mm Hg systolic (top number) or 80 mm Hg diastolic (bottom number) is considered high. If your systolic reading is between 120 and 129 and your diastolic number is less than 80, your blood pressure is deemed elevated.

Since high blood pressure is usually symptomless, regular screenings are important. Beginning at age 20, people with normal blood pressure (less than 120/80 mm Hg) should be checked at least once every two years. If your blood pressure is higher than normal, you may be screened more frequently.

Blood pressure levels may be affected by:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Race
  • Weight
  • Habits such as eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol in excess
  • Health conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol
  • Pain (acute and chronic)
  • Emotional distress
  • Pregnancy
TOTAL BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS

3 / 8 TOTAL BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS

Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced and used by the body to build cells. Cholesterol itself isn't bad—but too much cholesterol can be. It can contribute to the narrowing of your arteries, increasing risk of heart attack and stroke over time.

The American Heart Association recommends that beginning at age 20, adults have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years. You may have to go more frequently if you’re at risk for cardiovascular disease or have already been diagnosed.

HIGH-DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL) LEVELS

4 / 8 HIGH-DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL) LEVELS

Total cholesterol is just one way to measure cholesterol levels. Blood tests can also measure your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol).

HDL cholesterol helps carry LDL cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver, preventing a buildup in the arteries. As a general rule, the higher your HDL reading, the better. An HDL reading greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL is considered optimal. For women, levels below 50 mg/dL are less than desirable.

LOW-DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL) LEVELS

5 / 8 LOW-DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL) LEVELS

LDL cholesterol is the primary source of buildup in your arteries. LDL readings help inform treatment, so knowing them is important. Optimal levels are below 100 mg/dL. Those above 190 mg/dL are considered very high. According to 2018 guidelines, anyone with readings above this threshold will likely be prescribed a statin, a medication that helps lower cholesterol levels. Even if your LDL is under 190 mg/dL, you may still receive a statin depending on certain factors—including your age group, heart disease risk and diabetes status.

BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

6 / 8 BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

Diabetes and prediabetes are risk factors for heart disease. When you have diabetes, it affects the way your body uses glucose, or blood sugar. Beginning at age 45, you should have your glucose levels checked every three years. If you are overweight or have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screenings. There are a number of different tests, including:

  • Hemoglobin A1C test: This blood test measures average blood sugar levels over a two- to three-month period. Levels below 5.7 are considered normal. A reading between 5.7 and 6.4 indicates prediabetes, and a reading of 6.5 or higher on two separate tests may signify diabetes.
  • Random blood sugar test: For this test, a blood sample is taken at a random time. A result between 140 and 199 mg/dL points to prediabetes. Levels of 200 mg/dL or above suggest diabetes and further testing should be done.
  • Fasting blood sugar test: This blood sample is taken after an overnight fast. Levels below 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) are normal, and between 100 and 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) indicate prediabetes. If your fasting glucose levels are 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or greater on two tests, you will likely be diagnosed with diabetes.
BODY MASS INDEX

7 / 8 BODY MASS INDEX

Body mass index (BMI) is a rough indicator of the amount of fat on a person's body. It is calculated based on your height and weight, and can be accurately measured by your healthcare provider (HCP).

A normal or healthy BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9. A body mass index between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. Anything 30 and above is deemed obese.

As BMI increases, so do the risks for heart disease. Obesity is also a risk factor for other conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, lung problems, liver disease and some cancers.

BOOST YOUR HEART HEALTH

8 / 8 BOOST YOUR HEART HEALTH

You can’t change certain risk factors for heart problems, such as your age and family history. But you can adopt healthy lifestyle habits that improve your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels and BMI. These include:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet. Focus on healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein. Limit your intake of salt, added sugar, unhealthy fats and alcohol.
  • Getting regular exercise. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. In addition to eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, reducing your overall calorie intake and better controlling portions can contribute to weight loss. Bariatric surgery is an option for some people.

In many cases, your HCP will prescribe special medication to help keep your heart healthy, as well. Speak with your provider about the best heart health strategies for you.

Sources:

American Heart Association Go Red for Women. “Common Myths About Heart Disease.” 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease: Women and Heart Disease.” January 31, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Coronary Artery Disease.” 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020.
“New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension.” American College of Cardiology. November 13, 2017.
American Heart Association. “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings.” 2020. Accessed November 3, 2020.
PK Whelton, RM Carey, et al. “2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guideline.” Hypertension. 2018;71:e13–e115.
M Shen, H Tan, et al. “Trajectory of blood pressure change during pregnancy and the role of pre-gravid blood pressure: a functional data analysis approach.” Scientific Reports. July 24, 2017. 7(1), 6227.
American Heart Association. “Health Threats From High Blood Pressure.” October 31, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension's effects on your body.” November 19, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Heart-Health Screenings.” March 22, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure.” November 30, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Causes of High Cholesterol.” April 30, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2020.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. “Statin Use for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Adults: Preventive Medication.” November 13, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2020.
American Heart Association. “How To Get Your Cholesterol Tested.” March 22, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. “Lipid Disorders in Adults (Cholesterol, Dyslipidemia): Screening, 2001.” March 14, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2020.
M Naynor and RS Vasan. “Recent Update to the US Cholesterol Treatment Guidelines: A Comparison With International Guidelines.” Circulation. 2016;133:1795-1806.
Mayo Clinic. “High cholesterol.” July 13, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
American Heart Association. “HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides.” April 30, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Harvard Health Publishing. “HDL: The good, but complex, cholesterol.” August 6, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
UpToDate.com. “Patient education: High cholesterol and lipids (Beyond the Basics).” September 2019. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol.” August 28, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “HDL cholesterol: How to boost your 'good' cholesterol.” October 24, 2018. Accessed November 3, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. “Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean.” July 31, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
SM Grundy, NJ Stone, et al. “AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA Guideline on the Management of Blood Cholesterol: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines.” Circulation. November 10, 2018. 139:e1082–e1143.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Diabetes Tests.” May 15, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “All About Your A1C.” Accessed November 4, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Blood sugar test.” January 26, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Diabetes.” February 22, 2018. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons.” June 5, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “The Heart Truth.” 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Health screenings for women ages 40 to 64.” April 19, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Diabetes.” August 26, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
MedlinePlus. “Managing your blood sugar.” January 26, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity: About Adult BMI.” September 17, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs: Medical Complications of Obesity.” August 3, 2010. Accessed October 22, 2020.
UCSF Health. “Obesity Treatments.” 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.

Continue Learning about Heart Disease

Health Savings Plan Advice: Exercise
Health Savings Plan Advice: Exercise
When Al Green croons How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, he doesn’t provide an answer, but a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has f...
Read More
What are the chances of reblockage within a coronary stent?
Dr. Ravi H. Dave, MDDr. Ravi H. Dave, MD
The chance of reblockage varies on a lot of factors such as the size of the artery, the location wit...
More Answers
6 Heart-Healthy Habits for Women That Truly Make a Difference
6 Heart-Healthy Habits for Women That Truly Make a Difference6 Heart-Healthy Habits for Women That Truly Make a Difference6 Heart-Healthy Habits for Women That Truly Make a Difference6 Heart-Healthy Habits for Women That Truly Make a Difference
Heart disease rates have been dropping steadily for everyone but younger women. Here’s how to reverse that trend.
Start Slideshow
Add This Fat-Fighting Spice to Your Drink
Add This Fat-Fighting Spice to Your Drink