December 7, 2023

American Heart Month: Keep Your Heart in Top Form

Author: By Online Learning Tips Staff
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By Dr. Stacey Kram, DNP, RN-BC, CCRN, PCCN, CNE
Nursing Program Director, School of Health Sciences, American Public University

Since 1964, February has been recognized as American Heart Month. It is a great opportunity for everyone to learn about their risk for developing heart disease and take steps to detect and prevent it.

Heart disease is responsible for one out of every three deaths in the U.S. and one death occurs every 38 seconds. About 92.1 million Americans are living with some form of heart disease or have had a stroke.

The good news is that death rates from heart disease are declining, due to earlier detection and advancements in treatment. So what can you do to identify your risk of heart disease and reduce your risk?

Work with Your Healthcare Provider and Know Your Numbers

Working with your healthcare provider is a great place to start improving your heart health. There are many tests that can help:

1. Body Mass Index or BMI — There are more than 93 million obese Americans. Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for heart disease. But the number on your scale doesn’t tell the full story, as we are all built differently.

Your Body Mass Index is a measurement of your body fat, based on your height and weight, that is used to assess your risk of heart disease. A normal BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9.

If you are overweight, your healthcare provider may also want to measure your waist. A circumference greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men places you at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

2. Blood pressure — Many people with high blood pressure aren’t aware that they have it, because there are rarely any symptoms. A normal blood pressure is 120 over 80. High blood pressure starts at about 140.

One high reading doesn’t mean that you have high blood pressure (a medical condition known as hypertension), but it is important to monitor your blood pressure on a routine basis. Leaving high blood pressure untreated puts extra strain on your heart, blood vessels and kidneys. It also leads to heart attack and stroke.

3. Cholesterol — Starting at age 20, you should have your cholesterol checked every four to six years by your healthcare provider through a blood test called a Fasting Lipid Profile. It will show your total “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels.

Aim for a total cholesterol level of under 200. That’s less than 100 for “bad” cholesterol and above 60 for “good” cholesterol.

4. Blood sugar — A high blood sugar (blood glucose) level puts you at risk for diabetes, which greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the American Diabetes Association, screenings for high blood sugar should begin at age 45 and be done at least every three years unless you have other significant risk factors.

For someone who doesn’t have diabetes and who hasn’t eaten for more than several hours, your blood sugar level should be less than 100 before eating and less than 140 two hours after a meal. If your healthcare provider feels that you are at a greater risk of developing diabetes, he or she may ask for a hemoglobin A1c test, which detects your average blood sugar levels over the past three months. Normal A1c levels are less than 5.7%.

All of these tests can be easily incorporated into a routine checkup with your healthcare provider. Your provider will look at these numbers as well as your other factors to assess your overall risk for heart disease and identify ways to reduce this risk.

Knowing your numbers and working with your healthcare provider greatly reduces your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. So during American Heart Month, take some time and get tested.

About the Author

Stacey Kram, DNP, RN-BC, CCRN, PCCN serves in both academics and health outreach in the School of Health Sciences at APU. Dr. Kram completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice at Salisbury University and has been a nurse for 15 years, and in education for nine years. Her clinical experience is primary care of critically ill adults and their families. Prior to joining the university, Dr. Kram worked as a Nurse Manager for a novice nurse residency program within a community hospital system on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Dr. Kram also served in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps as a First Lieutenant with the 2290th USAH at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for three years.

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