Learning that you have heart disease is an overwhelming experience. All of a sudden there are lots of changes to make, including the foods that you eat, the activities you do, and the medicines that you take. The goal with treatment for heart disease is to reduce your risk for serious complications, such as a heart attack, irregular heartbeats, and death.
In short, managing heart disease is serious business. While your healthcare team will develop a treatment plan that works best for you, you can play a key role by knowing some important heart-health related information.
1. What’s your blood pressure?
Many people with heart disease have high blood pressure. When you have heart disease, your doctor may have you check your blood pressure at home. It’s important to know what your blood pressure is so you can make sure it’s not getting too high and alert your healthcare provider if it is. If you’re taking medicine for high blood pressure, regularly checking it at home can also help your provider tell whether the medicine is working.
2. What are your cholesterol levels?
You have two kinds of cholesterol in your body: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, can build up inside your arteries and lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol, carries LDL cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver and prevents your LDL cholesterol from getting too high.
Your healthcare provider can check your cholesterol levels with a simple blood test. A healthy HDL cholesterol level is 40 mg/dL or higher. A healthy LDL cholesterol level is less than 100 mg/dL. If you have heart disease, your provider may set your LDL cholesterol goal to less than 70 mg/dL.
3. What’s your body mass index (BMI)?
Your BMI gives you an idea of how much body fat you have based on your height and weight. An ideal BMI is less than 25. But even if you are overweight or obese and have heart disease, losing weight can reduce your risk for other serious health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
4. What are you doing to manage stress?
Stressful events, especially those that cause you to become very angry, can trigger a heart attack. In addition, you might be turning to unhealthy modes of coping with stress, such as drinking, smoking, or eating too much, that can also take a toll on your heart health.
Some healthier ways to manage stress in your life include:
- Joining a stress management program
- Spending time talking with family or friends
5. How much physical activity are you getting?
Exercising regularly can boost your heart function. It can also lower your risk for diabetes, increase your HDL cholesterol level, decrease your blood pressure, and help you lose weight. Aim for at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, every week. Break down the 150 minutes into as many smaller sessions as needed. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 5 minutes, every little bit makes a difference. But the more active you are, the healthier you’ll become.
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD