High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

Both high cholesterol and hypertension (high blood pressure) raise the risk of heart disease. Further, both are silent: neither high cholesterol nor hypertension carry any outward signs. Oh, and both increase with age.

So in addition to keeping your cholesterol low, it’s important to monitor your blood pressure to ensure it’s not silently creeping up.

Measuring will keep you on track. While an annual fasting blood test will help ensure your cholesterol is okay, it’s far easier to test your blood pressure. And maybe more important – as high blood pressure is often referred to as ‘the silent killer.’

Here’s what you need to know about blood pressure readings. The top number (systolic) should be less than 120, and the bottom number (diastolic) should be less than 80. If, like me, you are surprised to find that your blood pressure is between 120-140 / 80-90, you have ‘prehypertension’ and you should reduce salt / make other lo-co-like lifestyle changes. You officially have hypertension if your BP is 140-159/90-99. Here’s an at-a-glance chart from the American Heart Association (the link above has more info):

How I found out my blood pressure was high was at a regular checkup. In fact, my blood pressure was high enough that my ob/gyn insisted I call a cardiologist. He recommended I reduce salt, as in the American Heart Association page above. And that I buy a blood pressure monitor and take my BP each morning to keep track of things.

The first thing I found out is that how you take your blood pressure matters: it should be first thing in the morning, before you exercise or drink any caffeine, and you should be sitting straight up, with both feet on the floor and your arm on the table. The CDC’s article, Are You Wrong About Your Blood Pressure explains in more detail. And there is useful information like cutting salt out of your diet – and exercising – to help lower blood pressure.

The technology offered in today’s blood pressure monitors makes it so much easier to track – the machine I chose uses bluetooth to record my readings and send right to my phone. Or I can navigate to their site, sign in, and create a graph in Excel (I know that does not sound fun to many, but it makes me smile). I actually printed my readings out over a few months and brought it to my cardiologist – and avoided blood pressure medication. (Though it must be said he told me to stop it with the daily monitoring!)

There are many options, I’m sure – but the machine I purchased also enables you to test and track 2 separate users, so it was handy when my husband needed to track his blood pressure as well.

If you have high cholesterol and aren’t checking your blood pressure (at least occasionally, certainly more often than just annually at the doctor’s office) then get thee to a pharmacy with a blood pressure measuring machine or buy one.  The Omron BP786 is what I purchased, and it’s only $52 at the moment on Amazon. I like this particular machine – you might even have fun with a graph while finding out if your blood pressure is A-OK or high enough that you want to get checked by your doctor.

However you choose to, monitor your blood pressure in addition to your cholesterol for heart health.

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Cholesterol Results 2014

So I finally bucked up and got my cholesterol tested in November and the results were surprising.  First of all, my cholesterol – after a year of reasonably careful eating and a lot more exercise, but no Metamucil or Fish Oil pills – actually moved in the right direction.

Details in a second.

Not only that, my new cardiologist (again, more in a sec on why I needed to finally see a cardiologist) actually called my cholesterol results “enviable.”

Enviable, people.

This shocked me. Especially because I gave up on the fish oil pills which apparently now, in a total turnaround from past belief, don’t help much with cholesterol. (It’s frustratingly difficult to keep up with what’s recommended –  and what is no long considered effective – for managing cholesterol without statins.)

That said, in the face of a genetic predisposition toward high cholesterol, I’ve managed through diet and exercise to avoid cholesterol medication.  Though truth be told, that’s more likely due to the American Heart Association’s 2013 revised Guidelines For Managing Blood Cholesterol than anything I’ve done… if the Guidelines hadn’t been revised, I’d probably still be having the statin conversation with my doctor.

In any case, here are my exciting (ha ha) cholesterol results.

My overall cholesterol is UP and now measures 246 – which used to be considered high but is apparently now not so big a deal.  Not a big deal, I guess, because my LDL (bad) cholesterol keeps falling (“goal” is less than 130 and mine is now 123) and my HDL (good) cholesterol keeps rising (“goal” is higher than 46 and mine shot up to 95).

NOTE: I put “goal” in quotes because these goals are no longer really in line with the new Guidelines; I find it fascinating that they are still reported as “goal” when the only goal according to the new guidelines is LDL (bad) cholesterol over 190 along with other heart disease risk factors that have nothing to do with cholesterol results.  Bizarre that this is still ‘outdated’ a year later.  Or maybe not bizarre, just sad.

In any case, I’m excited about the results.  Here’s a chart for those who prefer graphs.  If that’s not you, skip to cardiologist discussion 2 paragraphs below!

KLS Chol Trend Thru 2014

You’ll see the red line of total cholesterol is still high and rising – but no one seems worried about that, since the green line of LDL (bad) cholesterol is falling along with the purple triglyceride line … and because the blue line of HDL (good) cholesterol is rising.

Things certainly do change – I’m so glad I never started on a statin back in 2010-2011 when my numbers looked like a statin was in order.

Now, on to cardiologist.  My cholesterol results were surprising – and nicely so. But at same blood test I found I am positive for a blood clotting disorder, so that was a major bummer.  It’s not treated – and not dangerous unless you take hormones (which of course I was) so that had to stop immediately.

And then it turns out my blood pressure has risen quite dramatically.

Likely the stress of this past year – along with wondering and worrying about the blood clotting disorder.  Hence my doctor-referred trip to the cardiologist.

So my new cardiologist and primary care doctor are sorting out how to deal with my (hopefully short-lived) blood pressure issue … and on the plus side, I really liked the new cardiologist.  And when we discussed cardiac risk and my cholesterol trends and family history, he also thought that getting a handle on what my cardiac risk really looks like is a good idea.  So I had two more blood tests – and YAY – these are the very tests I’ve written about thinking made sense for me in Cholesterol Tests Your Doctor Hasn’t Told You About.  Finally!

So I had blood tests for both C Reactive Protein (CRP is a measure of inflammation in the body and high levels have been associated with heart disease) and also a full lipid analysis that will measure LDL density, ApoB and more.  I am really relieved to finally be getting a handle on cardiac risk.  Lastly, am debating about getting a Coronary Calcium test done – it’s a CT test so there’s radiation involved (and Aetna denied coverage) so I’ll likely wait until the blood test results come back to decide.

So on plus side, my cholesterol tests are now ‘enviable’ but am waiting for the blood test results to come back and really help hone in on cardiac disease risk. Oh, and trying to figure out how to get my blood pressure back to normal.

So I’ll end 2014 with a question for you: how’s your cholesterol? And, um, blood pressure? If you don’t know, please resolve in 2015 to have them checked.

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