Ohio resident Erica Hutson was in her 20s when she found out she had high cholesterol through a health check required by insurance.
Because she was young and fit, Hutson shrugged off the test result.
But Hutson changed her mind about it a decade later, when her father died of coronary artery disease in his 60s and she discovered it ran in her family.
“His death really made me think about things and put my life into a whole different perspective,” said Hutson, now 37.
More Americans need to follow Hutson’s example and discover their heart risk factors earlier in life, according to a new national survey conducted by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Fewer than half of Americans know their blood pressure or ideal weight, and less than one in five know their cholesterol or blood sugar levels, the survey found.
“Recognizing heart disease risk factors early and adequately treating them can potentially prevent heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. As a society, we need to shift from sick care to preventative care so people can live their best and fullest lives possible,” said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of preventative cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at Wexner.
The survey asked more than 1,000 adults nationwide if they knew their blood pressure level, ideal weight, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
The highest number knew their ideal weight (44%), while the fewest (15%) knew their blood sugar levels.
By comparison, 68% could recall their childhood address and 58% knew their best friend’s birthday.
While they don’t know their health numbers off the top of their heads, Americans are having them regularly checked.
A majority of poll participants said they’d had their blood pressure and heart rate checked within the last year, and their blood sugar and cholesterol within the last five years.
“Most people can get screened at their physician’s office or, if they don’t have one, there are free health screening fairs as well as blood pressure machines at pharmacies,” Mehta said in a university news release. “It’s important to not only know your numbers but be proactive with medication and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.”
The healthy heart numbers include:
Blood pressure under 120/80 mm Hg.
Fasting blood sugar less than 100 mg/dL or a hemoglobin A1C of less than 5.7.
Cholesterol levels, including “good” HDL cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
A body-mass index between 18.5 and 24.9.
Sleeping an average of seven to nine hours each day.
“When you visit your doctor, ask what your numbers are for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and what a normal range is for you,” Mehta advised. “Discuss your sleep habits along with diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol use. Also, none of us like to talk about our own weight but it’s an important conversation because being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease.”
In Hutson’s case, her doctor put her on cholesterol-lowering statins but her numbers kept rising. A physician specializing in cholesterol disorders added a bimonthly self-injected shot to her statin, and her levels are now back in the healthy range.
“It’s really important to know what your numbers are, what they mean and consult with your doctor,” said Hutson, the mother of two young children. “You need to know what your family history is on both sides, so you can give that information to your children and all family members can be prepared to do what it takes to stay healthy.”
The American Heart Association has more about heart health numbers.
SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Feb. 7, 2024
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