Pratt: Be smart about taking care of your heart

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

There’s promising news when it comes to your heart. While, yes, heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States for men and women, your odds of avoiding this fate can be surprisingly good — if you practice a few basic health habits:

• assessing your risk

• managing stress

• optimizing your diet

• exercising regularly

• avoiding tobacco

These are the reasons that most heart problems tend to develop slowly, over many years. Damage to the arteries, which is what causes a heart attack or stroke, builds up as a result of many small choices you make all through life — from what you eat and how physically active you are to what you weigh, how well you manage stress and whether you smoke.

To get started, you need to know your risk.

Like in school, the first things you need to know are your ABC’s and your Numbers. The same is true for assessing your heart. The ABC’s are Ankle-brachial index, Blood pressure and body mass index and Cholesterol.

If you know your numbers in these key areas and regularly have screenings, you’ll be more aware of changes to your heart health and better prepared to work with your doctor to make necessary changes.

Based on your personal health history, your doctor can suggest your optimal numbers and how often you should measure them.

Here’s an explanation of these key tests and what your numbers should be:

Ankle Brachial Index (ABI): An ABI is a test which compares the blood pressure in your ankles to the blood pressures in your arms.

It is a safe and painless test that helps your physician determine if your legs are getting the proper amount of blood supply. The ABI screening gives your physician useful information in determining if there is adequate blood supply to your legs while determining if there may be a narrowing of the vessel that carries blood to the legs.

Blood Pressure and Body Mass Index:  A blood pressure screening measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. Guidelines typically target a reading of 140 over 90 (shown as 140/90 mmHg) as normal for most adults. You’re considered to have hypertension when you have a reading with numbers above these.

BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure of your weight as it relates to your height. A measure of 20–24.9 is considered ideal. In addition, your waist-to-hip ratio can help diagnose obesity. A waist size greater than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women is considered a risk factor for heart disease.

Cholesterol: A cholesterol screening is a blood test that can measure the amount of cholesterol in your blood. A cholesterol test can help determine your risk of the buildup of plaques in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body (atherosclerosis).

High cholesterol levels usually don’t cause any signs or symptoms, so a cholesterol test is an important tool.  An optimal total cholesterol number is below 200 mg/dL.

February is dedicated as National Heart Awareness month.

To emphasize the importance of knowing your risk of heart disease, St. James Parish Hospital is hosting a HEART SMART SATURDAY on February 18th from 8:30am to 11:30am in the David Reynaud Medical Plaza. Come by to assess your ABC’s, know your numbers and consult with a Cardiologist regarding your personal risk of cardiovascular disease.

Mary Ellen Pratt is St. James Parish Hospital CEO. She can be reached at