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Heart month: Know your numbers

| Heart Health | Healthy You

Man takes blood pressure at home

It’s American Heart Month. Here’s a great way to love your heart.

February is more than just a time to show your heart on Valentine’s Day. It’s also American Heart Month, a great time each year to take control of your heart health and commit to a healthier lifestyle.

As John Gundry, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at PeaceHealth noted, it’s an especially important time to pay attention to your heart.

“Throughout the pandemic, you may have put off important health screenings and preventive care. There’s no better time than during Heart Month to begin thinking about the care that you need to catch up on and to develop a plan to get it done," he said. "You are your own best advocate when it comes to your health. So it’s important that you’re in the know and prepared for your next appointment with us.”

One of the best ways to measure your heart health and catch any potential problems early on is with annual lab work and simple screenings.

Here are a few tests that may be helpful. Be sure to mention them to your doctor at your next visit to determine if they are right for you.

  • Cholesterol: This is a fatty, wax-like substance that builds up around your cells. Too much of it can lead to coronary artery disease. Your doctor may measure your total cholesterol, levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and levels of good cholesterol (HDL). All are important measures of your overall health and risk for heart disease.
  • Triglycerides: These are a type of fat found in your blood. They are often included in a cholesterol test. At high levels, triglycerides can lead to the hardening and thickening of your arteries (arteriosclerosis) and eventually cause heart disease and stroke.
  • Blood Pressure: This is one of the most common indicators of overall health and heart health. And it can be easily checked at home by purchasing an affordable monitor. When measuring blood pressure, be sure to pay attention to both numbers. Both the systolic (at the top) and diastolic (at the bottom) are equally important.
  • Fasting Glucose: Most commonly used to diagnose or assess diabetes, fasting glucose (the amount of glucose in your body after a night without food) can also indicate your risk for stroke or heart disease.

Remember, heart health isn’t just important for adults. It’s something to pay attention to in children, as well. While children don’t normally require the comprehensive testing regularly performed in adults, it is critical that you keep an eye out for signs of heart problems in your kids, most notably:

  • Getting short of breath or sweaty when feeding (infants).
  • Getting short of breath or exhausted sooner than other children during exercise.
  • Blue coloring in the lips, tongue, or gums.
  • Passing out or fainting.
  • Chest pain or dizziness when exercising (especially among older children and teenagers).

In addition to knowing your numbers, there are simple activities you can do. Dr. Gundry said, “Even a brisk daily 20-minute walk is shown to have heart-protective effects.“

As always, if you have concerns about your heart health, don’t delay care!

Schedule a consultation with your primary care physician or a PeaceHealth cardiologist to discuss any problems that arise and to develop a plan for your unique health journey.

Better heart health can begin today with just a simple few steps. Thank you for your commitment, and for trusting PeaceHealth as your partner in care.

portrait of John W. Gundry MD

John W. Gundry MD

Dr. Gundry received his medical degree at the Oregon Health Sciences University in 1992. He completed his residency and cardiology fellowship at the University of Washington in 1998. Before joining Oregon Cardiology in 2000, he practiced cardiology at the New Mexico Heart Institute. He practices noninterventional cardiology and is board certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular diseases.