According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. This is particularly eye-opening, as many falsely believe that cancer is the bigger "death wish." Yet the reality is that Americans should be protecting their heart health.
The risk factors that can lead to heart disease such as diabetes, obesity, excess alcohol use, poor diet, and lack of exercise, are so rampant and so commonplace in our society that people almost view them as normal when we know they are not.
This begs the question — when should women start receiving regular heart checkups and what numbers should they be looking to improve?
The American Heart Association recommends starting with routine cardiovascular blood work at 20 years of age, and then if those tests are normal, having them done every four to six years.
Most health care providers start testing cholesterol plus other markers such as fasting blood sugar, also known as glucose, every year once a woman turns 40 years old — unless something is flagged as abnormal earlier or if she has risk factors for heart disease.
There are several laboratory tests that can indicate the health of someone’s heart, including the most basic test of all — the blood pressure test.
Every time the heart beats, there are two pressures that are measured – the pressure out to the body known as "systolic" and the pressure into the lungs known as "diastolic."
Over time, as arteries become stiff or full of plaque due to lifestyle choices like smoking or a poor diet, the blood pressure numbers start to rise above the normally accepted 120/80 mm Hg. A blood pressure above 140/90 mm Hg is considered much too high, and is labelled as hypertension.
Sadly, 1 in 3 Americans has high blood pressure, which greatly increases the risk for heart disease, according to the CDC.
Fasting cholesterol markers are made up of total cholesterol, LDL or low density lipoprotein, HDL or high density lipoprotein, and triglycerides. Most health care providers run these standard numbers as part of their screen.