Have you ever noticed that in February you hear several news stories about the heart and heart disease? The reason - February is heart health awareness month. We devote an entire month to the heart because heart disease is the number one killer of men and women worldwide. Yes, you read it correctly, heart problems are the leading cause of death for women too. Women who are over the age of 50 are at a slightly higher risk for heart disease because, after menopause they no longer have the same level of protection for the heart previously provided by estrogen. (Menopause is defined as the cessation of a woman’s period for twelve consecutive months.) Simply having an annual physical by your doctor that includes comprehensive blood work can give you important information about your heart health. To prepare for your appointment here is a list of risk factors. Write them down as they apply to you and share them with your doctor. Risk factors include:
- Family history of cardiovascular disease ~ When we talk about family history, immediate family is the most important - mother, father and siblings. Information on grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins is also good to share if you know their histories but is not as important as the history of your immediate family.
- Smoking ~ Are you a current smoker? Did you smoke in the past? With what frequency do/did you smoke?
- Weight ~ What is your weight and are you currently over-weight or obese?
- Other Health Conditions ~ Do you have any other health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes or diabetes.
- Exercise ~ Do you exercise? If so how much? Lack of exercise can increase your risk for heart disease as well.
During your visit ask your doctor to include blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1c, lipid profile, HDL to measure cholesterol levels, vitamin D, and C-reactive protein in your blood tests. This group of lab tests can provide information about underlying causes of heart disease, inflammation and insulin resistance and problems with bad fats. Depending on your age your doctor may also advise you to get a stress test for your heart.
After you have completed your annual visit don’t forget to make another appointment to get your lab and test results. This is the most important visit because it is the opportunity to understand how the lab results and your history give you a full picture of your heart health. It will also give you a base line for the next time you have an annual physical. Health is really measured on a continuum so understanding your heart health this year sets you up to monitor your health each year going forward.
This year, take control of your heart health during your annual exam and love your heart for the rest of the year!
Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.