The first stages of heart disease are often symptomless and start early in life. It’s essential for women to start getting screened from their late 20s or early 30s in order to take necessary precautions before heart disease strikes. We give you information on six crucial tests a woman should have regularly as part of her health checks.
1. BLOOD PRESSURE
When the doctor puts the cuff on your arm to check your blood pressure, he is measuring the force exerted against the arteries every time your heart beats. Arterial blood pressure is constantly changing during the course of the heart’s cycle. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 while 130/85 is normal and 140/90 borderline and needs to be checked regularly as any reading above this is an indicator of high blood pressure.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) classifies blood pressure as follows: 120 to -140/80 to -90 (normal blood pressure) +140 to 160/+90 to 100 (mild hypertension), +160 to180/+100 to110 (moderate hypertension), +180/+110 (severe hypertension). The upper figure is called systolic blood pressure and the lower diastolic blood pressure. Both pressure readings are necessary to enable a doctor evaluate the status of your blood pressure. As blood pressure rises above 140/90, your risk of heart disease gradually increases and you may need to be put on medication to keep it under check and prevent damage that may cause heart disease or stroke.
Picking the warning signs. If your numbers are normal, high blood pressure should be checked yearly or each time you see a doctor. If it is borderline or mild you will need to be rechecked every month. If it is moderate or high you will need to be checked regularly and if necessary the doctor will put you on medication to put it under control. You may also be required to buy a home blood pressure checking machine to monitor it more closely.
2. FASTING BLOOD SUGAR
This test measures the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood after an eight-hour fast. Researchers say millions of deaths from heart disease and stroke could be attributed to high blood-glucose levels. Ideally, your fasting glucose levels should not be higher than 99 mg/dL.
Picking the warning signs. Low risk women (those without heart problem history in their family and are not obese) should get a baseline test done at age 40. If your numbers are normal, you will be re-tested every couple of years. If they are high, they should be checked every six months to a year. Your doctor will advise you on a proper diet and exercise routine to keep your numbers normal.
This is a blood test that measures your levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good”) cholesterol, your LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood associated with HDL, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure). High HDL can lead to the build-up of plaque inside your arteries, while HDL helps carry cholesterol from the blood to the liver, where it can be eliminated. Your total cholesterol number should ideally be under 200. LDL should be less than 100, HDL more than 50, and triglycerides less than 150.
Picking the warning signs.If your numbers are normal, you can have your cholesterol checked every five years; if they are elevated, your doctor will want to check it annually. You will be put on medication to lower the numbers if they are dangerously high and also be put on a low-cholesterol diet that avoids foods high in saturated fats.
4. C-REATIVE PROTEIN
This is another blood test used to measure levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. This is an important test because half of all heart attacks occur in people who don’t have high cholesterol. Research shows that elevated levels of C-reactive in women predicted their heart attack even when their LDL levels indicated low risk.
Picking the warning signs.If you have risk factors for heart disease, get a baseline test at around age 30, and depending on the results, repeat it every two to five years. If the doctor considers you are at risk, he will take necessary measures to reduce your risk.
5. ELECTROCARIOGAM (ECG)
Your heart rate and rhythm are measured by this test. Electrodes are attached to your neck, chest, arms and legs to record the path to electrical impulses through your heart muscle.
Picking the warning signs. Have baseline ECG between ages 35 and 40. If it’s normal, it won’t have to be repeated for three to five years. If it’s not normal, the doctor will investigate further and take necessary measures.
6. STRESS TEST
How well your heart handles exertion – an indicator of possible coronary artery disease – is measured by a stress test. Electrodes are attached to your chest and blood pressure cuff is put around your arm while you walk or run on a treadmill.
Picking the warning signs.If you are easily fatigued during your normal workout or carrying out household chores, you should get a stress test.