North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

May 6, 2009

Diabetics at much greater risk of suffering a stroke

Health Watch By Sherry Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

People with diabetes have a two-to-five times greater risk of having a stroke, and having diabetes also puts you at higher risk of dying from stroke.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of heart disease and stroke, by knowing and controlling your ABCs — your A1c, blood pressure and cholesterol.

The A1c is a test that is usually performed two-to-four times a year. The A1c (or Hgb A1c) blood test measures average blood sugar over two or three months. What you ate the night before the Hgb A1c blood test does not affect the result.

It is also known as HbA1c, hemoglobin A1c, A1c, glycosylated hemoglobin, glycohemoglobin or glycated hemoglobin. The test can be done at any time of the day in a lab using a sample of blood from your arm.

Let’s compare A1c to candy apples. Imagine your red blood cells are like candy apples in a candy factory — maybe Willy Wonka’s — where the apples get soaked in syrup for three months.

The more sugar in the syrup, the sweeter the apple. Well, the more sugar in your blood, the sweeter the red blood cell. Blood sugar sticks to the hemoglobin in red blood cells and the red blood cells live for three months while floating around in your blood. There you have it — candy coated hemoglobin. The goal of the A1c test is to have a result of less than 7 percent.

Blood pressure monitoring is usually checked at every doctor visit. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. This is especially important if you have a close relative who has high blood pressure.

One of the most dangerous aspects of hypertension is that you may not know that you have it. There are generally no symptoms of high blood pressure, so you usually don’t feel it. In fact, nearly one-third of people who have hypertension don’t know it. If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:

• Severe headache

• Fatigue or confusion

• Vision problems

• Chest pain

• Difficulty breathing

• Irregular heartbeat

• Blood in the urine

• Pounding in your chest, neck or ears

If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. Untreated hypertension can lead to serious diseases, including stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and eye problems. The goal is to maintain a blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg

A Cholesterol test is usually performed annually. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and is made by the liver. Cholesterol also is present in foods we eat. People need cholesterol for the body to function normally.

Cholesterol is present in the cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines and heart.

Why should you be Concerned about cholesterol? Too much cholesterol in your body means that you have an increased risk of getting cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease. If you have too much cholesterol in your body, the cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that carry blood to your heart.

This buildup, which occurs over time, causes less blood and oxygen to get to your heart. This can cause chest pain and heart attacks. It is desirable to have a “total cholesterol” level less than 200.

To complicate it a little bit more, there is also a good and bad cholesterol. So what’s the difference?

HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. HDL takes the bad cholesterol out of your blood and keeps it from building up in your arteries.

LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. When being tested for high cholesterol, you want a high HDL number and a low LDL number.

The LDL Cholesterol for either male or female should be less than 100mg/dl. For women the HDL-Cholesterol should be more than 55mg/dl. For men the HDL-Cholesterol should be more than 45mg/dl.

Healthy steps

A few other steps that can be taken towards having a healthy heart include:

• Sticking with a healthy eating plan and including more fiber-rich foods to reduce glucose and blood pressure

• Exercising regularly to improve cardiovascular fitness

• Quitting smoking and avoiding drug use

• Using alcohol in moderation

• Taking medications, when necessary, to help reduce blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels

• Knowing the signs of stroke and acting immediately if a stroke is suspected

Annual visits to your primary healthcare physician are essential. His/her expertise in screening for a multitude of conditions is invaluable.

Good health is a journey, let your physician guide you.

Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with her husband, Steve Mullenix (R.Ph). They can be reached at 631-1201.