By: Kathy Hubbard
The young woman, I’ll call Suzanne, is around forty years old and, I guess, fifty pounds overweight. She always seems to be on the go, but I doubt she works out regularly. She told me her weakness is chocolate chip ice cream, an almost daily treat.
Suzanne complained that her Primary Care Provider (PCP) told her that she tested positive for prediabetes but was going to ask for another workup because she didn’t believe the first one was correct. And then she said that her dad had a heart attack when he was sixty, but quickly added that since she’s still young, she’s not concerned for herself.
What? Wrong! Number one reason: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women and should be taken seriously. Number two reason: How we behave in our younger years greatly affects our health as we age.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes (NHLBI) website says, “Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed. These include your age, sex, and a family history of early heart disease. Many others can be modified. For example, being more physically active and eating healthy are important steps for your heart health. You can make the changes gradually, one at a time. But making them is very important.”
The risks you can control are having high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, being overweight or obese, being diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, smoking, or not getting regular physical activity.
I told Suzanne that if she had a history of preeclampsia (a sudden rise in blood pressure and too much protein in her urine) during her pregnancy, she would be at a higher risk of heart disease as she got older.
Each risk factor you have increases your chances of developing heart disease. And although women tend to get heart disease a decade later than men do, it doesn’t stop the fact that it’s the number one killer.
NHLBI says that you should form a heart-healthy partnership with your healthcare provider. “Risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol generally don’t have obvious signs or symptoms. A crucial step in determining your risk is to see your provider for a thorough checkup and risk assessment. Your provider may use a risk calculator to estimate your risk of having a heart attack, having a stroke, or dying from a heart or blood vessel disease in the next ten years or throughout your life.”
They explain the importance of an annual assessment and urge us to keep asking the same questions year after year because our risk factors can change. Their website also lists questions that each of us should ask the PCP, such as “What is my risk of developing heart disease?”
Knowing your numbers – cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, body mass index – is great, but asking what they mean and knowing what you should do about them is far more important. Ask the medico whether there are other screening tests you should have based on your and your family’s history.
If you smoke, ask your provider how they can help you quit. Ask what a heart-healthy diet would look like and if it would be a good idea for you to see a registered dietitian. Another question to ask is how much physical activity you need to protect your heart.
Once you have the plan, plan to evaluate the results. Does your treatment meet the latest guidelines? Are your risks for heart disease in a good range, or are they getting better?
“Ask questions if you do not understand something or need more information. You may want to write down questions before your appointment. And if your provider recommends medicine or a medical procedure, ask about the benefits and risks,” NHLBI says.
Bonner General Health Family Practice can be reached at 208-265-2221, and BGH Internal Medicine Clinic’s number is 208-263-6876. Both clinics are accepting new patients. You and Suzanne should call.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there’s a topic you’d like me to tackle, please send me an email. This article was written for publication in the Bonner County Daily Bee on January 31, 2024.