February 23, 2024
13 MIN

From BS&W: How's your heart? Ways to assess and lower your risk of heart disease

Having open conversations with your doctor is a vital part of your well-being. And when it comes to heart health, communication is key to preventing conditions and addressing your cardiovascular risks.

At your appointment or annual checkup, your doctor may carry out several comprehensive assessments to set a base line for your cardiovascular wellness, as well as monitor any symptoms or concerns you may have. You will also discuss various aspects of your health that may impact your heart, such as lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol use, as well as your exercise habits.

Healthcare tools to monitor your heart's health

Your doctor may use several tests to understand your heart's health and monitor any symptoms.

Among those tests are risk calculators like the Framingham Risk Score and ASCVD risk calculator. These tools help predict your 10-year risk for your first cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, coronary heart disease death or a stroke. When we know your risk, we can partner with you to make lifestyle modifications that can reduce your risk and improve your heart's health.

Another vital tool that your health care team will use to assess your cardiovascular risk is a lipid screening. A lipid screening, also known as a cholesterol test, is a blood test that measures the levels of various lipids (fats) and cholesterol in your blood.

The test typically includes the measurement of:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Known as "good" cholesterol, higher levels of HDL cholesterol are beneficial for heart health.
  • Total cholesterol: This is the sum of your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Triglycerides: These are another type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels can also contribute to heart disease risk.

You can track your results of your lipid screenings and other tests through the MyBSWHealth app. The app lets you review your test results and ask your healthcare provider questions about what you can do to improve your heart health. MyBSWHealth also lets you quickly and easily schedule in-person or video appointments to discuss results with your doctor.

3 ways to be proactive in your heart health

Many cardiovascular diseases, like coronary artery disease, develop silently, without noticeable symptoms. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle enables early detection of risk factors, allowing for timely intervention and prevention. Here are some ways you can be proactive in your heart health.

1. Attend regular doctor's appointments

The first step toward a proactive approach to heart health is regular visits to your doctor. Annual wellness exams provide a platform for preventative measures and open dialogue. Don't be afraid to ask questions or raise any concerns you may have. It's important to ensure your doctor has a full understanding of your individual health needs.

2. Make heart-healthy choices

Making heart-healthy choices on a daily basis is key. But dietary and exercise changes don't have to be overwhelming. Incremental progress is key. Start with 5-10 minutes of exercise daily and gradually increase it to 30 minutes each day.

Nutritionally, it is important to avoid fad diets and stick with smaller portions and consistency in what you eat. Year after year, the Mediterranean diet is most often recommended to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. This diet emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats, including vegetables and fruits and oils from fish and nuts. Studies have linked the Mediterranean diet with lower risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

3. Recognize the early signs of heart conditions

While early signs of heart failure vary, there are some common ones that you can learn to spot, such as:

  • Chest pain that's often described as a pressure-like sensation, tightness, squeezing and aching, with pain that can radiate to the jaw, neck and your left arm
  • Feelings of nausea, indigestion or heartburn
  • Persistent fatigue or becoming more easily short of breath
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness

If you are experiencing any of the above, seek medical help immediately.

Conversations with your doctor, annual checkups and lifestyle modifications all pave the way toward a healthier, more heart-conscious life.

Concerned about your heart health? Find a cardiologist near you.