You have probably heard that a majority of Americans die of heart disease. So it is not rocket science that the first step to good health is to heart your heart!
The good news is that more than 80% of heart disease is preventable. And that means that if you take the right steps, your heart will beat more than 2 billion times in your lifetime, aka – you could live for more than 80 years. Now, if thats what you are going for, then one of the first few steps is to make sure that you know your numbers. While heart testing constitutes a wide array of tests, there some basic tests that you can get through your PMD’s office.
So, what is your heart like?
Your heart is about the same size as a pear. It sits behind your ribs on the left side of your body just next to your breast-bone (sternum). It has four parts, the left ventricle and the right ventricle which are both at the bottom of the heart, and the left atrium and the right atrium at the top. A wall of muscle called the septum separates them. The walls of the heart are made of really strong muscles that squeeze and relax to pump blood around the body. It does this about 70 times a minute, on average, if you are an adult.
And here are some basic tests that you can request your PMD to do for you to make sure your heart is in good shape…
Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the blood and in all the body’s cells. When it builds in the inner walls of your arteries over time, it hardens and turns into plaque. That plaque can narrow the artery walls can cause blocks that can lead to blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.
Your body actually needs cholesterol to function normally and to stay healthy. But our bodies are fully capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. It’s what you put into your body (yes, we mean those salty snacks and baked goods), and in some cases your family health history that causes trouble.
- Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable level that puts you at lower risk for heart disease.
- 200 to 239 mg/dL: Considered borderline high.
- 240 mg/dL and above: High blood cholesterol. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of heart disease.
HDL cholesterol levels:
- Less than 50 mg/dL: Low HDL cholesterol. A major risk factor for heart disease.
- 60 mg/dL and above: High HDL cholesterol. Considered protective against heart disease.
LDL cholesterol levels:
- Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
- 100 to 129 mg/dL: Near or above optimal
- 130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline high
- 160 to 189 mg/dL: High
- 190 mg/dL and above: Very high
- Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal
- Less than 150 mg/dL: Normal
- 150–199 mg/dL: Borderline high
- 200–499 mg/dL: High
- 500 mg/dL and above: Very high
The term HbA1c refers to glycated haemoglobin. It develops when haemoglobin, a protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body, joins with glucose in the blood, becoming ‘glycated’.
By measuring glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), clinicians are able to get an overall picture of what our average blood sugar levels have been over a period of weeks/months.
|Prediabetes/Borderline||6.0% to 6.4%|
|Diabetes||6.5% or over|
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein that the liver makes when there is inflammation in the body. It’s also called a marker of inflammation, and can be measured with an hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) test, sometimes also called a CRP test. Inflammation is a way for the body to protect itself from injuries or infections, and inflammation can be caused by smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Excessive inflammation has been linked to heart disease. About 50% of all heart attacks and strokes affect people who seem healthy and have normal cholesterol levels. hs-CRP testing offers a way to identify some of these people so that they can reduce their heart disease risk before they have a heart attack or stroke.
Low risk: less than 1.0 mg/L
Average risk: 1.0 to 3.0 mg/L
High risk: above 3.0 mg/L
Your heart functions as a muscular pump, that contracts rhythmically and squirts blood into your arteries. From there, your blood is channeled to your entire body, through a circulatory system of smaller vessels. In this way, oxygen is delivered to all parts of your body. If your blood pressure is too high, your heart must work much harder to maintain adequate blood flow to your body. High blood pressure, or hypertension, approximately doubles the risk for heart attack and stroke.
If your blood pressure is recorded as 120/80, the number on top is the systolic pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure. It is measured in millimeters of mercury. Systolic pressure is the pressure generated by each heartbeat. This occurs during the contraction of the heart muscle, which is called a systole. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between the heartbeats when the heart is resting. Systolic pressure is obviously always higher than diastolic blood pressure.
An electrocardiograph (ECG) is an ‘electric graph’ of the heart. Spoiler alert: It’s not rocket science.
A healthy heart pumps blood through the body when stimulated by an electrical signal that causes the heart cells to contract in just the right order; resulting in a magically coordinated four chambered pumping action. Leads equipped with conductive gel are placed on different parts of the body allowing a view of the heart from different angles. When viewed from one of the leads, a normal electrical impulse looks like this:
That first little hump, called the P wave, represents the electrical signal that starts in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart causing them to contract.
The electrical signal then travels through a maze of conducting wires that, with perfect timing, causes the lower chambers (ventricles) to contract. The journey causing this second contraction through the ventricles is represented by the QRS portion of the EKG. The larger T-wave, which then finishes off our heartbeat, is the recovery of the ventricles.
This pattern is called normal sinus rhythm. It is the basic EKG of any normal healthy heart. Naturally, there are variations of normal within the healthy population.
- An echocardiogram (echo) is a test that uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to make pictures of your heart.
- A probe called a transducer is passed over your chest. The probe produces sound waves that bounce off your heart and “echo” back to the probe. These waves are changed into pictures viewed on a video monitor.
- We can find out the shape and size of your heart, functioning of the walls, valves and muscle of the heart and can identify some rare heart conditions as well.
- If you have been told you have a ‘heart murmur’, make sure you get an echocardiogram. It could mean that your heart valves are too tight or too leaky.
This was just a primer on the basic tests that doctors use to learn about your risk of heart disease. If any of these tests reveal abnormal results, then there are several other tests that can be performed after referral to cardiologists. These include cardiac stress tests, nuclear imaging, cardiac catheterization, Holter monitoring etc.
So go test your heart today! If you have any questions, feel free to ask us.