Experts agree that eating healthily and leading an active lifestyle are important for your heart’s health and help prevent many of its worst ailments. There are many factors involved in the development of these conditions and not all of them are under our control, but doctors have a number of basic parameters to check our condition.
According to an article published by Harvard’s School of Public Medicine, doctors usually look at several values in order to assess the overall condition of the heart and circulatory system. For information purposes, we go over these figures so you know what to expect in your next checkup.
Keep in mind: the following information is meant for information purposes only and does not constitute any form of medical advice, and by no means it should be taken as a substitute for proper medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose and rely on your doctors only for actual diagnosis. Talk only to them to address any health concerns.
5 values doctors use to check your heart’s health
Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, a doctor and professor of Medicine who’s also editor-in-chief for the Harvard Heart Letter and works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Harvard Public School of Medicine that he always checks several indicators to determine if there are any aspects of concern when it comes to preventing heart diseases.
One of them would be blood pressure, which can play a role in the development of some heart conditions. This is because high pressure can hasten the damage that’s done to blood vessels and promote the accumulation of fats, making you more likely to suffer a heart attack.
High readings are also important because it can enlarge parts of your heart, increasing the risk of heart failure, and it’s also known to make you more prone to having a stroke because of a blockage or burst in the brain blood vessels. The Harvard Public School of Medicine points to a diet high in nutrients like potassium and low in sodium and alcohol to help control your blood pressure levels.
Another important factor you’re probably familiar with is LDL cholesterol, or High-Density-Lipoproteins. It’s better known as “bad cholesterol“. The amount of LDL in your body can be estimated via a lipid panel, which shows many figures, like triglycerides. LDL can be worrisome if it surpasses a given threshold, because its molecules can accumulate in your artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis. PSM recommends limiting your saturated fat intake, found in foods like red meat or dairy, and consuming more unsaturated fat, present in vegetable oils, seeds and fats.
A somewhat related indicator is your triglycerides levels, particles that help your body get enough energy as it needs to. It’s also part of your lipid panel and are actually the most common type of fat in your body. Found in unhealthy fatty or sugar-loaded foods, too many triglycerides can also pose some risks, as they can raise your heart attack and stroke risk.
Then there’s glucose. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying blood sugar levels have to do with diabetes, but this indicator can also be relevant when checking your heart’s health, the Public School of Medicine explains. This is because high levels are also detrimental to you blood vessels, as sugar can also become attached to LDL particles, oxidizing cholesterol and making it more likely to cause problems. On top of that, too much glucose also affects your platelets, which are in charge of blood clotting.
These substances are needed to stop bleeding, but if these platelets are too viscous or sticky, they can form harmful blood clots that trigger a stroke or heart attack. This is why it’s often indicated to avoid foods high in sugar and opting for carbohydrates that haven’t been processed, regardless of whether you are diabetic or not.
Finally, doctors tend to measure around your belly — taking note of your waist circumference — because it is where fat tends to accumulate, around your organs. Paying attention to this abdominal fat is important, because aside from what’s been mentioned above, fat encourages inflammation, so it’s important to keep it at bay by moderating your unhealthy fat intake, SPM says.
Simple ways of protecting your heart
Your doctor will tell you about these indicators and what they mean for your health. Generally speaking, experts agree on a basic set of steps you can take to protect your heart, like sticking to a balanced, healthy diet that ensures you get all the nutrients you need and is not heavy in unhealthy fats and sugars, or exercising regularly, preferably through a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Getting enough quality sleep and keeping stress at bay can also protect your heart, according to Harvard experts.