Do you know your numbers?
You probably know your telephone number, your social security number and maybe even your bank account number, but do you know the numbers that can literally save your life?
Blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides are the most important numbers you need to know for your health.
What do your numbers tell you?
High blood pressure or hypertension is often called the silent killer because it can cause blindness, stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure – all without symptoms.
Having high blood pressure doesn’t mean you are tense, uptight, excitable or a “hot head.” It has nothing to do with your personality. High blood pressure is simply the measurement of the force of your blood on the walls of your arteries.
This measurement is made up of two numbers. The highest (systolic pressure) measures the force when your heart pumps blood into the arteries. The second or bottom number is diastolic pressure and measures the pressure against your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
What is normal blood pressure?
The only way to know your blood pressure is to check it often. Normal blood pressure is between the optimum numbers of 115 / 75 and 120 / 80 mm Hg. The risk of cardiovascular disease begins to rise when blood pressure is above 115 / 75 mm Hg.
- 120 / 80 or lower is normal blood pressure
- 140 / 90 or higher is high blood pressure
Between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number is pre-hypertension
Anyone can have high blood pressure, but people over the age of 55 or people with a close family member with high blood pressure may be more susceptible. Your chances also increase if you are overweight, eat a high-salt diet, do not exercise, smoke or drink alcohol heavily.
How does high blood pressure affect the body?
High blood pressure can cause serious conditions such as coronary artery disease as blood vessels are damaged.
- High blood pressure may overstretch the walls of your blood vessels creating weak places in the blood vessels that may rupture and cause stroke or aneurysms.
- High blood pressure may overstretch the walls of your blood vessels causing tears in the vessel that heal and create scar tissue. This rough surface can catch cholesterol and allow the build-up of plaque, narrowing the artery. If a clot forms or plaque breaks loose, it could lead to heart attack or stroke.
- Arteries that are narrowed or that do not function properly may not be able to deliver enough oxygen to the rest of the body, which could lead to tissue damage of major organs.
- Arteries that are narrowed or overstretched do not work efficiently; the heart must pump harder to deliver oxygenated blood to the body. Overtime, this can damage the muscles and valves of the heart.
The first step to treating high blood pressure is to check it often; you can do this yourself at home. If it is high, you should see your health care provider. Treatment of high blood pressure often includes medications, and lifestyle and dietary changes. Click here to learn more about high blood pressure.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function. Cholesterol is found in all parts of the body. However, if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries, narrowing them or even blocking them.
For the best health, your total cholesterol should be under 200. Cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in the blood and needs to be transported through the body by lipoproteins. You know these as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) the “bad” or “lousy” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), commonly known as “good” cholesterol.
Of that 200, your LDL should be below 70. If too much LDL is in the blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries that go to the heart and brain, forming atherosclerosis. This thick, hard plaque deposit narrows the arteries and makes them less flexible. Clots can form and block the narrowed artery and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Your HDL should be 60 or above. HDL is reported to move cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it passes from the body. High levels of HDL may protect against heart attack, but levels that are less than 40 may increase the risk of heart disease.
Triglyceride numbers are often overlooked. Though we hear much about cholesterol, we rarely hear about triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood that the body stores and uses for energy. The calories eaten during a meal, but not used through activity are converted to triglycerides. The body releases the triglycerides as it needs more energy.
While we need triglycerides for good health, too much of a good thing can be hazardous and may lead to coronary artery disease. Your triglycerides should be less than 150. Below is a chart rating the different triglyceride levels.
- Normal – Less than 150 mg/dL
- Borderline-high – 150 to 199 mg/dL
- High – 200 to 499 mg/dL
- Very high – 500 mg/dL or higher
High triglycerides can be attributed to being overweight, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol. A high carbohydrate diet can also be a factor in triglyceride levels. Lose weight if you are overweight by cutting calories.
Change your lifestyle and change your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If your triglycerides and cholesterol levels are too high, the American Heart Association recommends some lifestyle changes
- Lose weight
- Limit or reduce the amount of foods you eat with saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol.
- Eliminate or reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week.
- Exchange olive oil or canola oil for saturated fats.
- Eat albacore tuna and salmon, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids instead of hamburger or other meats with high fat content.
- Stop smoking
Read more in “Getting a Handle on Cholesterol,” a publication from the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care heart care team.
Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC, a publication by the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, gives tips on how to lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes.