Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in all of your body’s cells. Although some cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body, a cholesterol level that’s too high is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol—HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). These two combined equal your total cholesterol level. Triglycerides are also a factor to watch. Let’s look at each in more detail.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein). This “good” cholesterol consists of high levels of protein that help protect against heart disease by carrying cholesterol away from the arteries. A level over 60 mg/dL is desirable (mg/dL stands for “milligrams per deciliter”—a measurement your healthcare provider will use).
LDL (low-density lipoprotein). LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. We absorb bad cholesterol through fried, fatty foods. It has high levels of fat, but little protein, which makes it unstable, causing it to breakdown as it travels through the bloodstream. When LDL cholesterol breaks down, it is deposited on arterial walls, blocking blood flow to the heart. An LDL level below 100 mg/dL is desired and a level of 160 mg/dL or higher is considered high-risk.
Total cholesterol. Total cholesterol is the measure of both HDL and LDL combined. A total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL is desirable, and a level of 240 mg/dL or greater is considered high.
Triglycerides. Triglycerides are a form of fat. People with high levels of triglycerides often have high cholesterol and may be at high risk for coronary artery disease and stroke. Levels under 150 mg/dL are desired.
High cholesterol rarely causes symptoms. It is usually detected during a routine blood test performed by your healthcare provider. Cholesterol may first be discovered after a diagnosis of a condition caused in part by high cholesterol. These conditions may include stroke, coronary artery disease, etc.
There are several risk factors for high cholesterol. Some risk factors are within your control, and others are not.
Get Screened. Make a point of getting screened for high cholesterol regularly. If you’re over the age of 20, you need to have your cholesterol checked every five years. High cholesterol can be managed—either with lifestyle modification, medication, or both—but you must know your cholesterol is high in order to address it effectively.
When considering high cholesterol, there are a number of situations in which you should seek medical help. Seek medical help in the following situations.
Home treatment for high cholesterol will include one of two strategies, and maybe both. These strategies include lifestyle modification and drug intervention.
If your total cholesterol, especially your LDL level, remains high despite lifestyle modifi-cations, your healthcare provider may recommend drug intervention. Generally, an LDL level over 190, or an LDL over 160 with two or more risk factors, requires medication.
“A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL is desirable, and puts you at a lower risk for developing heart disease.”
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. When a person experiences high blood pressure (hypertension), the heart is forced to work harder than normal, causing it to grow abnormally large—straining arteries and the heart itself. High blood pressure can also damage kidneys and other organs, as well as lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and stroke.
A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers—systolic and diastolic. Let’s look at each of these measurements in more detail.
Systolic — The systolic measurement is the pressure of blood against artery walls when the heart pumps blood through the body. It is the first number in a blood pressure reading, and is considered normal when it is less than 120 mmHg (mmHg means “millimeters of mercury”—a measure your healthcare provider will use in relation to blood pressure).
Diastolic — The diastolic measurement is the pressure of blood against the artery walls when the heart relaxes and refills with blood. It is the second number in a blood pressure reading, and it is considered normal when it is less than 80 mmHg.
Key Point —A consistent reading of 120/80 mmHg or higher (the threshold of “pre-hypertension”) is cause for discussion with your healthcare provider. See the chart in this section for a detailed break down of blood pressure levels.
High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. Sadly, it is estimated that of the 50 million Americans age six and over who have high blood pressure, one-third are unaware that they have the condition.
Several risk factors—both controllable and uncontrollable—contribute to the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.
Know Your Numbers. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” be-cause it has no symptoms. As with cholesterol and many other chronic conditions, it’s important to get screened regularly. And, with the recent modification to blood pressure guidelines to include the category of “prehypertensive” it may be a good idea to get screened again soon. Many hospitals and community centers offer free screening services. Take advantage of these services and “know your numbers.”
Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have high blood pressure and any of the following symptoms.
Home treatment for high blood pressure will include one of two strategies, and maybe both. These strategies include lifestyle modification and drug intervention.
Doctors have different opinions as to when medication is necessary; however, individuals with multiple risk factors for heart disease and elevated blood pressure (greater than 120/80 mmHg) are often treated using blood pressure medication in addition to lifestyle modification.
Source: American Heart Association
“High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ because it has no symptoms.”
Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the organs and tissues in your body. This blood contains oxygen and nutrients to keep you alive, and it travels through a network of blood vessels that measures approximately 60,000 miles.
Although there are a number of conditions that can be classified as “heart disease,” in this section, we’ll concentrate on coronary artery disease—a heart condition in which fatty deposits clog and harden coronary arteries. This “hardening of the arteries” can typically occur in mid to late life, and blocks blood flow to your heart muscle. This blocked blood flow causes chest pain (angina) and, if the blood is blocked for a long enough period of time, a portion of the heart muscle can die. This is commonly known as a heart attack.
Because heart disease is the number one killer in the United States—and is also very preventable—it’s important to know the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease.
Because heart disease tends to develop over a long period of time, symptoms can be vague, and may vary from person to person. Regardless, here are some telltale signs that your heart may not be working correctly.
Family history of heart disease
Women and Heart Disease. Heart disease is not just a man’s disease! In fact, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death among American women today. 267,000 women die each year from heart attacks (six times more than the number that die from breast cancer). The good news is that by working with your healthcare provider to get regular screenings and checkups, you can address your risk factors before it’s too late. Schedule an appointment today.
The symptoms of heart disease should clue you in that your heart is not functioning properly. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of heart disease outlined in this section, you should contact your healthcare provider who can screen you for the presence of heart disease and help you implement an action plan.
Heart disease in advanced stages can lead to a heart attack, meaning that blood flow to a coronary artery is blocked for a significant amount of time (approximately 30 minutes to two hours). If this happens, you’ll experience what is commonly known as a heart attack. A heart attack is a life-threatening event. Call 911 immediately if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms.
Heart disease is a serious condition that requires the attention of a healthcare provider. You and your healthcare provider can establish a plan of action for managing your condition most effectively. Make sure to include the following steps in your action plan.
“The network of blood vessels and arteries in the human body measures approximately 60,000 miles.”
Diabetes is a serious disease. If not diagnosed and treated early, it can result in blindness, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, birth defects, and limb loss. What’s more, diabetes kills approximately 200,000 people each year.
Startlingly, you may not know you have it. Onset is often gradual and difficult to iden-tify—you can have diabetes without any symptoms. In fact, half of those affected don’t even know they have the disease until they seek help for one of its complications. Dia-betes is a growing disease—800,000 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year—a number that is expected to rise as baby boomers age.
There are two main types of diabetes—type 1 and type 2. Both are caused by the body’s inability to produce or properly use insulin—a hormone that maintains the proper level of sugar in your blood.
Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults, and may have a sudden and severe onset, requiring emergency medical care. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the ability of the pancreas to make insulin, so people with type 1 diabetes must eat a special diet, get regular exercise, check their blood sugar levels, and give themselves shots of insulin several times throughout the day.
Type 2 Diabetes: Ninety to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. It is usually diagnosed in older adults, although overweight children sometimes develop it as well. It is caused by the pancreas not making enough insulin, or the body not using it well. People can have type 2 diabetes for years without symptoms, yet it is still damaging to their bodies.
The symptoms of diabetes may be hard to recognize, and are sometimes mistaken for signs of aging. The risk factors for diabetes, however, are straightforward.
Weighty Matters. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 90 percent of all people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes are overweight. And with about 60 percent of Americans now overweight or obese, it’s no surprise that 800,000 new cases of diabetes are reported each year. But remember, it is possible to lose weight and keep it off. Talk with your healthcare provider to develop a strategy that’s right for you.
Diabetes is a serious condition that requires the regular attention of a healthcare provider. With that in mind, seek immediate emergency care in the following situations.
People with type 1 diabetes must watch their diet, monitor blood sugar levels, and give themselves insulin shots throughout the day.
There is no cure for diabetes yet, but there is much you can do to manage the disease. Include the following in your diabetes management plan.
“800,000 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year—a number that is expected to rise as baby boomers age.”
Arthritis is a chronic condition that can cause a great deal of pain and severely limit an individual’s activities. Arthritis is much more common in older adults, but the perception that the disease is a condition that only affects older adults is off base. In fact, most people with arthritis are younger than 65, and nearly 300,000 children are affected by arthritis as well.
Arthritis is a disease of the joints, and causes the membranes, cartilage, and tissues around the joints to become inflamed. After prolonged inflammation and breakdown, joints can become severely damaged, causing permanent disability.
At this time, the cause of arthritis is not known; although researchers are investigating the possibility that a virus may cause the body’s immune system to attack the joints. There is no cure for arthritis; however, it can be effectively managed using self-care techniques.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Oesteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout are the most common forms. Oesteoarthritis causes cartilage to break down resulting in bones rubbing together. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the tissues lining the joints to become inflamed leading to disability. Gout is a disease caused by the deposit of uric acid crystals in the joints. The symptoms of these three common forms of arthritis include the following.
What About Arthritis-Specific Diets? While there are several “arthritis-specific” diets that claim to reduce arthritis symptoms—or even cure the condition—the Arthritis Foundation recommends arthritis sufferers evaluate unproven diets very carefully. Arthritis-specific diets known to have harmful side effects are those that rely on heavy doses of alfalfa, copper salts or zinc, or the so-called immune power diet or the low-calorie/low-fat/low-protein diet. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a sensible diet that includes variety, balance, and moderation to help arthritis sufferers maintain a healthy weight and potentially reduce symptoms.
Because arthritis can be a serious chronic condition, it’s important that you involve your healthcare provider in the decision making process. You’ll especially want to call your healthcare provider if you exhibit any of the following symptoms.
There are many steps you can take to treat arthritis in the comfort of your own home. Here’s a list of some helpful self-care strategies.
“Nearly 70 million Americans have arthritis or chronic joint symptoms. As the population ages, this number will probably increase dramatically.”
Cancer is caused when cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many types of cancer, they all start because of the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.
In healthy adults, normal cells only divide and multiply to replace dead or injured cells. Abnormal cells are different from normal cells because they continue to grow and divide. This out-of-control growth can lead to the formation of masses (tumors)—which may or may not be cancerous.
Because cancer can take many forms, and affect many parts of the body, the signs and symptoms of cancer are numerous. Often times, the signs and symptoms of cancer depend on the type and location of the cancer. Additionally, because the general signs and symptoms of cancer may often mimic the symptoms of other conditions, it’s important to follow regular cancer screening schedules—see the chart on the following page. Listed here are some of the general, as well as specific signs and symptoms of cancer.
If you’re experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms of cancer, it’s important to see your healthcare provider right away. Early detection is one of the most important variables in successful cancer treatment.
There are a number of risk factors for developing cancer. Some of these risk factors are within your control, and others are not.
It’s Never Too Late to Quit Smoking. No matter what your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting will help you live longer. Statistics prove that smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as are non-smokers. But quitting smoking now greatly reduces your chances of developing serious health problems. According to the American Lung Association, people who quit smoking before the age of 35 avoid 90 percent of the health risks attributable to tobacco use. Those who quit smoking before age 50 have one-half the risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smokers. Kick the habit!
If you’re experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of cancer listed in this section, it’s important to see your healthcare provider right away. Moreover, because early detection is one of the most important variables in successful cancer treatment, it’s important to follow the cancer screening guidelines outlined in this section.
Cancer is a serious health condition and treatment will be a decision made between you and your healthcare team. Whatever course of treatment you choose, there are some things you can do to help better manage cancer throughout the treatment process and beyond.
Learning as much as you can about your condition, communicating openly with loved ones, keeping a positive attitude, and learning about your insurance coverage can go a long way toward helping you cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer often disrupts the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients, and can also lessen one’s appetite. Therefore, it’s important to make a registered dietician a part of your healthcare team.
Here’s encouraging news—more than half of all cancer patients do not experience significant pain. If pain exists, it can almost always be managed. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be very effective, and narcotics and tranquilizers exist for severe pain. Talk with your healthcare provider about the right pain management strategy for you.
Source: American Cancer Society
Family history is a risk factor for some types of cancers.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all adults get these regular cancer screening tests, so that cancer can be discovered and treated early. People with increased risk for cancer may need more frequent and additional tests.
Note: After three or more consecutive satisfactory examinations with normal findings, the Pap test may be performed less frequently at the doctor’s discretion.
“Some forms of cancer are thought to be hereditary, making family health history an important risk factor.”
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects a person’s airways—the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma causes the inside walls of the airways to become inflamed. This inflammation makes the airways very sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to “triggers”—things to which you are allergic or find irritating. When these airways react, they get narrower and less air flows to the lungs. This causes symptoms like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing.
Common asthma symptoms include:
People with asthma may have:
Although there are a number of “triggers”—like tobacco smoke, pet dander, dust, or pollen—which may further irritate a person’s asthma, or even incite an asthma attack, risk factors for asthma are largely beyond our control. Risk factors include the following.
“Asthma ‘triggers’ include things like tobacco smoke, pet dander, dust, and pollen.”
Stress and Asthma. According to the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma, and Immunology, stress can lower your immune system’s ability to manage chronic conditions such as asthma. People with asthma may be more likely to get sick if under a high degree of stress. If you’re an asthma sufferer, try implementing the following stress management strategies to strengthen your body’s ability to manage your asthma better.
Most of the time, asthma can easily be managed in the comfort of your own home. There are, however, times when your asthma may need immediate medical attention. Call 911 immediately in the following situations.
If you have asthma, it is important to learn how to take care of yourself. The following tips and strategies will prove helpful if you or a loved one is dealing with asthma.
“See a doctor if you have severe difficulty breathing or if breathing doesn’t become easier 20 minutes after taking your medication.”
The quiz below is designed to test your knowledge on the information presented in this section. Use this quiz as a tool to better understand how to care for yourself and others.
The information contained in this guide is based on the best health information available and has been reviewed for accuracy. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have any questions about managing your own health and/or seeking medical care, please contact a medical professional.
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