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Forget Blood Pressure: These Numbers May Be Far More Important

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Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of illness and death in the United States. While most people know that high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure contribute to cardiovascular disease, most people do not realize that the majority of people who experience a heart attack have normal blood pressure readings.

And according to the American Heart Association, only one-third of people suffering from a heart attack have elevated levels of cholesterol.

For decades, monitoring blood pressure and screening for cholesterol levels have been the standard way that doctors and other health care experts have evaluated patients’ risk for developing cardiovascular illness, including heart attacks. Newer tests are available which may prove to be more valuable than cholesterol and blood pressure measurement. Better testing will result in improved patient outcomes and fewer heart attacks.

Cholesterol, Triglyceride, and Blood Sugar Levels

Most heart attacks and heart failure are caused by a buildup of fat and hardening of that fat within the arteries. Cholesterol is produced by the body and obtained from eating animal fats. Some cholesterol, known as HDL cholesterol, is healthy. Low density cholesterol (LDL) is the types of cholesterol that, when out of balance, contributes to cardiovascular disease.

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Triglycerides is a generic name for a wide range of fats in the body. Elevated triglyceride levels are implicated in blocking the arteries, too.

Diabetics are at an elevated risk for suffering from cardiovascular illness, so blood glucose monitoring should be included in an assessment for cardiac disease risk.

What causes poor circulation and heart attacks? If fat builds up in the arteries, the arteries become narrow, inflamed and inflexible. The substance formed is called plaque. High blood pressure may result from hardening of the arteries. Impaired circulation ensues throughout the body and within the circulation to the heart and lungs. Inflammation is a key factor in the formation of many types of illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.

A piece of plaque may break off and lodge in the heart, causing a heart attack, or in the brain, causing a stroke. A clot may form within the heart itself, creating a myocardial infarction, commonly referred to as a heart attack. Tissues within the part of the heart which is blocked die, and the heart weakens. Restoration of the cardiopulmonary circulation is essential, as is control of high blood pressure. Medications, stents and advanced surgical procedures may be needed in addition to rest for the heart and tissue oxygenation to recur. The focus of rapid treatment after a heart attack is to prevent additional damage to the heart, and to restore circulation and improve oxygenation of the damaged tissues.

A Different Test: CRP

Image source: wisegeek

Image source: wisegeek

A blood test called C-reactive protein, CRP, is becoming more frequently employed as a measure of heart and blood vessel health. While experts have known for years that elevations of certain types and proportions of cholesterol and high blood pressure are risk factors for the development of cardiovascular illness, the link between inflammation and cardiovascular disease was recognized more recently. People who have elevated levels of CRP have an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, sudden death and vascular disease. CRP levels indicate risk of future cardiovascular illnesses.

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The optimum level of a CRP measurement is less than one. A level between one and three is considered to indicate a moderate risk. A person who has a CRP level greater than three is considered to be at high risk for the development of cardiovascular disease. (The higher the number, the more inflammation in your body.)

The CRP level is obtained via a simple, readily available blood test and should be included as a regular part of a health assessment. Weight loss, diet, exercise and medications may be used to reduce levels of CRP. Several herbal therapies may be beneficial as well.

The PLAQ Test

A newer, less frequently utilized test which may be employed to assess cardiovascular risk is known as the PLAQ test. It measures levels of the compound known as lipoprotein phospholipase A2, Lp-PLA2. Lp-PLA2 creates molecules within blood vessel walls that are more prone to the development of hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis and plaque, the hard substance within blood vessels. People who have elevated levels of Lp-PLA2 are at risk for cardiac disease even if other risk factors, such as high cholesterol or elevated triglyceride levels, are absent. Experts believe that diet, medication, exercise and weight loss may cause a reduction in Lp-PLA2 levels, thereby reducing the risk for cardiovascular ills.

Another test, the BNP blood test, is used in people who suffer from congestive heart failure. It is a valuable test for determining if shortness of breath is due to heart or lung problems.

Have a Healthy Heart

Check with your health care provider to see what tests he or she recommends to evaluate your risks for cardiovascular disease. Exercise, stress management, a healthy diet and nurturing relationships are all part of a wellness plan to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. These diagnostic tests are valuable; however, living a healthy lifestyle is the best key to cardiovascular health.

Which heart and blood tests do you value most? Share your health tips in the section below:

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One comment

  1. A good recap of The Party Line of the govt & ACC, the same people who gave us The Food Pyramid, thereby causing an epidemic of obesity & diabetes in this country over the last four decades.

    Here’s some facts for you to digest yourself: as the article correctly states, only 1/3 of those suffering an MI have elevated chol, and lowering your chol doesn’t translate into significantly reduced risk.

    Hi BP is a symptom of arteriosclerosis, not a cause. (Does hi water pressure cause you to pinch the end of your garden hose to make it squirt farther, or does pinching it cause hi pressure?) Lowering your BP doesn’t reduce your risk of MI.

    Arteriosclerosis is caused by oxidation of the lining of arteries, causing “cracks” which are then “healed” by the deposition of plaque. Plaque includes chol and fibrin, among other molecules. The chol doesn’t cause the cracks.

    There are varieties of “chol” and levels of each are genetically determined. The exact types & levels an individual has may figure in his risk for MI.

    CRP and sed rate are nonspecific tests for inflammation. In general, as noted above about arterial cracks, arteriosclerosis is basically an inflammatory disease. Those tests are too highly variable to be of much use clinically. Coincidentally, just this week another report came out showing that regular users of ibuprofen (designer aspirin, an anti-inflammatory) live longer than non-users.

    What all the “experts” don’t tell us is that the benefit of regular exercise outweighs the danger of all the other risk factors….but then, we could of guessed that anyways.

    In summary: [a] chose your parents wisely [b] don’t smoke [c] exercise regularly [d] don’t play in the street– and you’ll maximize your chance of a long life.

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