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Attention, women: Know your numbers, know the signs

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Attention, women: Know your numbers, know the signs

By Lisa DeMello, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC
Clinical Nurse Specialist/Stroke Coordinator, Saint Anne’s Hospital

Our brains are saturated with numbers to remember – birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, and personal identification numbers, to name a few. There also are important numbers that women should know to help them maintain a healthy heart. This is especially true as we strive for the best possible health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

February is American Heart Month, and heart disease is the leading cause of death to women. It is important for women to know their numbers and develop a plan with a health care provider to address any abnormality.

  • Women should know their cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index:
  • Cholesterol: There are three numbers associated with cholesterol monitoring: total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Total cholesterol is a calculation of the combined HDL, LDL, and triglyceride. A normal cholesterol is considered to be less than 200. If you have existing medical conditions, your goal may be lower.

LDL, considered the “bad cholesterol,” contributes to the build-up of fatty substance that narrows your arteries, and puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. An LDL of 130-159 (mg/dl) is considered borderline high, while 160 (mg/dl) or greater is considered high.

HDL, considered the “good cholesterol,” may protect against heart attack and stroke. HDL carries some of the bad cholesterol to the liver so it can be eliminated. An HDL of 60 (mg/dl) or greater is considered healthy.

Blood pressure: Women at risk for elevated blood pressure (hypertension) are those who are more than 20 pounds overweight, have a family history of hypertension, or are post-menopause. Blood pressure is reported as a fraction: systolic blood pressure over diastolic blood pressure. A normal systolic reading is less than 120 (mm Hg), a normal diastolic reading is less than 80 (mm Hg). Elevated blood pressure may damage blood vessels that supply the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.

Blood sugar: A normal fasting blood sugar is less than 100 (mg/dl). Fasting implies you have had nothing to eat or drink after midnight. A reading of 100-125 (mg/dl) may identify you as a pre-diabetic. A reading of greater than 125 may identify you as a diabetic. Elevated blood sugar also may damage blood vessels that supply the heart, brain, kidneys, nerves, and eyes.

Body mass index (BMI) is an estimate of body fat based on a height and weight calculation. For women, a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal. A value of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or greater is considered obese.

Heart attack symptoms may be different for women compared to men. Both women and men may experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and jaw, neck, or back pain. Women may have a pain or pressure in the lower chest and upper abdomen, or may also experience fainting, indigestion, or extreme fatigue. If you experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1. Your EMS team will initiate early care on the scene, and will notify the hospital ahead of time so they can prepare for your care.

Remember: Knowing these important numbers and establishing a plan with your health care provider may save your life.

For more information on women and heart disease, visit GoRedforWomen.org. 

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