Does Family History Dictate Your Heart Health?
My cholesterol levels look pretty good: My LDL, the bad stuff that goes right into making the plaque that clogs up your arteries, is a decent 106 (under 100 is better); my HDL, the good stuff that can especially protect women's hearts, is a terrific 64 (over 50 is protective); and my triglycerides, which can reveal your recent diet, are quite low at 50 (anything under 100 is good). For the record, my total cholesterol is a respectable 180, though Dr. Andersen says that the HDL and LDL numbers provide more important information.
She then gives me an electrocardiogram, a.k.a. an EKG, where tiny electrodes are attached all over my skin and I lie on a table and breathe. The EKG tests the electrical impulses of the heart. Mine are normal. "If you'd had a previous heart attack -- 25 percent of heart attacks go unnoticed -- this would most likely show you," she says. "And it gives us insight if there are any abnormalities in the chambers of the heart." There aren't. "You have the EKG of a 20-year-old," she says. Thank God something on me still looks 20! "Look over there," she says, shining a light into my eye. "I'm looking at the back of your eye. It's the only place on the body you can directly visualize your arteries. And if there's damage from blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, we can usually see it. But no -- yours look beautiful."
This day is turning out better than I expected. I begin to wonder if perhaps all the stress in my life is actually keeping me alive. Perhaps without it my pressure and heart rate would be so low I'd be unable to get off the couch.
But really, if everything seems normal, what next? Am I done? Dr. Andersen is quick to say that although things look good now, I shouldn't vanish from medical scrutiny for the next five years, which is essentially what I always do. I should get a blood test for my C-reactive protein level, which is an independent prognosticator of heart attacks in women. I need to cut down on salt, since I put salt on everything, including sugar (mmm, kettle corn). I need to stay active, or what passes for active given my preference for activities that involve lying down. Though then again -- there is a God! -- getting enough sleep and having good sex are pluses on the heart health ledger.