The holiday season is all about opening your heart to family and friends and embracing those closest to you. But, it’s pretty hard to muster up all that tender energy if your heart isn’t operating at 100%. The most effective way to gauge the health of your largest feel-good organ this season is to quantify its performance with some basic blood screening.
Blood screening can be a vital way to gain some information about your individual risk for heart disease. Once you have the information, you can make educated choices to reduce your risk factors such as:
- Blood pressure
Along with changes in awareness and lifestyle, blood screening is vital for understanding your baseline statistics, tracking progress, and measuring your associated risk. The following are the four main tests that will illustrate your level of cardiovascular risk: cholesterol, C-reactive Protein, Homocysteine and Fibrogen.
High cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans, and increases your risk of heart-related health problems. The only way to gauge your cholesterol levels is to have a lipid panel performed, which will provide you with numbers for total cholesterol, High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), Triglycerides and the Cholesterol to HDL ratio.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood, and when there is an excess of cholesterol, it builds up in your arteries and restricts blood flow to the heart. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it creates much of the blockages, whereas HDL helps flush away the LDL and resulting build-up. Based on the levels of these different types of cholesterol, combined with the triglycerides results, you can evaluate the risk of heart disease and make lifestyle adjustments, such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking, increasing the HDL in your diet, and cutting out foods high in LDL, such as foods with high saturated fat.
High cholesterol does not cause symptoms on its own – you may not be aware that it is elevated, unless you get regular blood screenings. If you are at least 20 years old, then you should have cholesterol screening every 5 years.
C-reactive Protein (CRP) is a protein produced by your liver in response to inflammation in the body. Although levels of CRP cannot isolate the location or cause of the inflammatory response, high levels of this protein, in conjunction with high levels of these other compounds can indicate arteriosclerosis, or a build-up of plaque in the arteries. The American Medical Association does not currently recommend CRP testing for the general public, but if you are already at risk for heart disease, or are concerned about your cardiovascular health, it is another piece of the picture in revealing your overall heart risks
Homocysteine is another substance your body uses to make proteins and tissues. While it has not been proven that reducing your homocysteine levels necessarily corresponds to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, a recent study has shown that highly elevated levels of homocysteine were related to a threefold increase in the risk of heart attack over a five year period. Once again, homocsyteine levels are not part of a routine screening, but can play a part in determining overall heart risks if measured during blood screenings.
Fibrogen is another protein that helps blood clot throughout the body, an important function, but one that can provide heart complications if its levels are too high. Too much fibrogen can also indicate arteriosclerosis, especially for those with a family history of heart disease. The Mayo Clinic has comprehensive information on blood screenings and heart disease.
This year, give your family the gift of reassurance, and get your blood screened to ensure that your heart will be healthy for many years to come. While understanding your health and tracking your progress allows you to manage risk and make necessary changes, you can always follow a few simple tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the Holidays, and year-round.