Have a 'Heart-To-Heart' With Your Physician

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February is the month of hearts. It’s Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Awareness Month. Many organizations are making use of this opportunity to emphasize matters of the heart – both as they relate to romance and love –and to our precious health. This is a great time for all African Americans to review the kinds of questions and conversations you should have with your physician when discussing this vital organ. Here are ten essential questions to ask your doctor and a quick quiz to assess your risk for heart disease, both courtesy of the Healthy Heart Handbook for Women published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Ask your doctor:

  • What is my risk for heart disease?
  • What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me and what do I need to do about it?
  • What are my cholesterol numbers? (These include total cholesterol, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, HDL or "good" cholesterol, and triglycerides.) What do they mean for me, and what do I need to do about them?
  • What are my body mass index and waist measurements? Do they indicate that I need to lose weight for my good health?
  • What is my blood sugar level and does it mean I’m at risk for Diabetes?
  • What other screening tests for heart disease do I need? How often should I return for checkups for my heart health?
  • What can you do to help me quit smoking?
  • How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
  • What is a heart–healthy eating plan for me? Should I see a registered dietitian or a qualified nutritionist to learn more about healthy eating?
  • How can I tell if I’m having a heart attack?

Now here’s the quiz. Answer yes or no to each question:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Is your blood pressure 140/90 mmHg OR have you been told by your doctor your blood pressure is too high?
  • Has your doctor told you that your total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dl or higher, OR your HDL is less than 40 mg/dl?
  • Has your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, OR has your mother or sister had one before age 65?
  • Do you have Diabetes OR a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dl or higher, OR do you need medicine to control your blood sugar?
  • Are you over 55 years old?
  • Do you have a body mass index (BMI) score of 25 or more?
  • Do you get less than a total of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days?
  • Has a doctor told you that you have angina (chest pain) OR have you had a heart attack?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you ’re at an increased risk of having a heart attack. But don’t despair. Information is your best ally. Even though Black men and women are at high risk, knowing the risks allows you to make changes NOW that may save your life. Clip this article and take it with you on your next doctor’s appointment. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your doctor, what better time to get reacquainted than during the "month of hearts?"

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