Rule 1 Baseline Your Health, part 2
What if your cholesterol numbers are out of whack? (See “What Do My Cholesterol Test Results Mean?”) Your physician will assess your family history, habits, vital signs and general health. Often, the first step is to make changes in your diet and activity level to try to bring your cholesterol counts into the optimal range. However, most of the cholesterol in your body is made by your liver. The food you eat accounts for about 25% of your cholesterol. No one knows for certain whether your cholesterol levels will respond to lifestyle changes alone, or if your cholesterol imbalance is mostly hereditary. If diet and exercise don't do the trick, your physician may then recommend a cholesterol medication.
Blood Pressure Basics
Every time your heart beats, its power propels blood through your arteries as it begins its journey to the rest of your body. Your blood pressure is the force exerted by blood against your arteries with each beat. When your doctor measures your blood pressure, the reading is made up of two numbers. The first is called systolic pressure. It is the pressure while the heart is contracting. The second, smaller number is called the diastolic pressure. That's the pressure against the arteries when your heart is at rest. (The numbers represent pressure units in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg.) So a normal blood pressure reading of 120 mmHg systolic and 80 mmHg diastolic is expressed as “120 over 80.” Both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure are important indicators of your cardiovascular health. Your risk of heart attack, stroke and other ailments rises with your blood pressure reading. The American Heart Association reports that about 69 percent of people who have a first heart attack and 77 percent who have a first stroke turn out to have blood pressure higher than 140 over 90. And when high blood pressure, or hypertension, combines with high cholesterol, the risks skyrocket.
Once you understand what the blood-pressure numbers mean, see your doctor to learn what your own numbers are. Find your current blood pressure on the ranges you see on our chart, “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings.” If your pressure is consistently high, your doctor should suggest steps you can take to improve it, based on your lifestyle and medical history. These may include changes in diet and exercise, or stress-reduction measures. In some cases, blood pressure will remain high despite lifestyle changes. Then doctors may prescribe diuretic or beta blocker drugs as a last resort.
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