February is Heart Health Month! Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States – so if you ever needed an excuse to be proactive about your heart health, now’s the perfect time.
Over the next few weeks of February, you’ll get a closer look at several at-home lab tests that can give you a better picture of your heart health. This week, we’re putting a spotlight on the Heart Health Test.
Everlywell’s Heart Health Test kit gives you a comprehensive view of the main risk factors for heart disease: high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in your bloodstream), high blood sugar, and inflammation. It does this with only a small sample of blood, which you can collect from the comfort of home – making this kit an easy-but-powerful way to assess your heart’s wellness.
EverlyWell’s Heart Health Test kit gives you a comprehensive view of the main risk factors for heart disease.
Now, let’s explore each of these risk factors for heart disease in more depth.
High levels of LDL cholesterol can fill your arteries with deposits of plaque. (Your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body through arteries.) Blood can’t flow as easily through your arteries if they’re packed with plaque – a situation that can result in heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
High levels of LDL cholesterol can fill your arteries with deposits of plaque – a situation that can result in heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Source: National Library of Medicine (US). Genetics Home Reference. Illustration: Plaque in an artery wall. (Cited Feb 12, 2019.)
High LDL cholesterol is thus a significant risk factor for heart disease – which is why it’s known as “bad cholesterol.” In general, a high level of LDL cholesterol is in the 160-189 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) range. Beyond 189 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol levels are considered very high.
There are a couple of different ways to determine LDL cholesterol levels.
First, there’s “direct LDL,” which is a direct measure of the LDL cholesterol in a blood sample using laboratory techniques.
Then there’s calculated LDL – which simply means that the LDL cholesterol value is mathematically estimated from the blood levels of other markers (like total cholesterol and triglyceride).
As you might expect, direct LDL gives you a more accurate measure of the amount of LDL in your blood. EverlyWell’s Heart Health Test measures your direct LDL.
What are some risk factors for high LDL? Here are a few:
As its nickname “good cholesterol” suggests, HDL cholesterol is often beneficial for heart health. It helps prevent plaque from building up in your arteries. HDL cholesterol does this by sticking onto particles of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. HDL then carries the LDL cholesterol to your liver, where the LDL is broken down.
As its nickname “good cholesterol” suggests, HDL cholesterol is often beneficial for heart health.
High HDL cholesterol levels are usually ideal. A low amount of HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, increases your risk of heart disease.
To raise your HDL cholesterol, consider:
Like LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol can either be measured directly or calculated mathematically. A direct measurement – which the Everlywell Heart Health Test uses – is usually a more accurate way to check the amount of total cholesterol in your blood.
Total cholesterol can either be measured directly or calculated mathematically (from LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels).
A high total cholesterol number indicates a higher risk of heart disease.
A family history of high cholesterol means that you’re more likely to have high cholesterol. If that applies to you, regularly monitoring your cholesterol levels is an important step you can take to proactively care for your heart.
If you’re 20 or older, it’s recommended to take a cholesterol test at least every 5 years . However, this is a bare minimum: if you have risk factors for heart disease (such as smoking, family history, and so on), your healthcare provider may recommend that you test your cholesterol levels more frequently.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that can come directly from the food you eat. Your body also makes triglycerides out of sugary and starchy foods.
Your body makes triglycerides out of sugary and starchy foods.
Triglycerides are useful for the body because they’re a source of energy for your cells. But too much triglyceride in your blood – around 199 mg/dL and higher – is a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease. (Coronary artery disease, a common form of heart disease, is the main cause of death in the United States .)
One key way you can keep your triglyceride levels down is watching what you eat. In particular, stay away from foods that tend to be full of trans fatty acids – such as vegetable shortening, fried fast foods, and some baked goods. (Trans fat can send your triglyceride levels up .)
Too much sugar in your bloodstream contributes to plaque formation, harming your arteries. Because of this, high blood sugar is a risk factor for heart disease.
One way of determining your blood sugar level is with an HbA1c test. Your HbA1c levels reflect your average blood sugar level from the past 3 to 4 months.
An HbA1c test is not the same as the glucose result you get from a blood glucose meter. A blood glucose meter determines your at-the-moment blood sugar level, which often swings up and down throughout the day as you eat and exercise.
A blood glucose meter (pictured here) determines your at-the-moment blood sugar level, which often swings up and down throughout the day as you eat and exercise.
An HbA1c test shows your average blood sugar level from the past several months, making it a reliable way to assess long-term changes in blood sugar.
You’re more likely to have high blood sugar levels if:
Inflammation is a mechanism your immune system uses to protect your body from infection and injury. But your well-being is at risk if inflammation persists for a long time – which can happen if your immune system malfunctions. Long-term inflammation is known as chronic inflammation, and it can increase the chances of heart disease.
Inflammation is a mechanism your immune system uses to protect your body from infection and injury.
Chronic inflammation in the body is not always obvious because it can exist at a low, “background” level without producing very noticeable symptoms. There is a blood marker, though – which EverlyWell’s Heart Health Test measures – that reveals the presence of inflammation. That marker is high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or hs-CRP for short.
Your liver makes C-reactive protein if there’s inflammation in your body. A higher level of CRP usually means you have more inflammation in your body – warning you of a potential risk to your heart health.
Also, testing your hs-CRP levels is a useful way to gauge heart health because cholesterol levels aren’t always a perfect indicator of heart disease risk. According to some estimates, half of the people who suffer a heart attack don’t have high LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels . Your hs-CRP levels can thus tip you off that your heart health might be in danger – even if your LDL cholesterol is fairly low.
Give your heart some love this February by checking 6 key markers of heart health. Do that from the convenience of home with EverlyWell’s Heart Health kit. You’ll only need a few drops of blood as a sample – making this a practical alternative to going to your doctor’s office for a blood draw.
In most cases, your test results will be available for viewing on EverlyWell’s secure online platform just days after you send your sample to the lab via mail (shipping is prepaid both ways for any EverlyWell kit you buy). So this kit is an easy way to be proactive about your heart health – and it can give you a wealth of insight into your body’s overall wellness.