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Understanding Your Health

Understanding Cholesterol Medications

High cholesterol is a growing concern for many people.  You or someone you know may have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and prescribed medication to treat it.  And while these medications can be lifesaving, it’s important to understand how they work and what side effects you may encounter.

Most of the time, your physician will ask you to make lifestyle changes before prescribing a medication.  For many people a change in diet or exercise program will automatically lower cholesterol levels. 

However, if a lifestyle change doesn’t work or if you have a hard time committing to a lifestyle change, you may need to take a cholesterol medication.  There are five major types of cholesterol medications your doctor may have prescribed.

The first is niacin.  This is used to help raise HDL and lower LDS and triglyceride.  It does this by targeting the liver.  Some side effects include stomach upset, flushing, and itching.  It can also raise your blood sugar levels, so you need to monitor them especially if you have diabetes.

Statins are another type of drug that also work by targeting the liver.  They help to reduce LDL and are moderately good at increasing LDL.  The side effects of this type of drug are very mild and they usually go away with continued use.  But your doctor may want to monitor your liver function because rare complications can occur with the liver.

Another class of drug called resins actually works by targeting the intestines.  It binds to bile in the intestines, which causes your liver to produce more bile.  As a result, the extra bile bind to cholesterol and helps to dispose of it so there’s less in your blood.

Fibrates work to lower your triglyceride levels and can also help to raise HDL.  They don’t actually do much to lower your LDL, so they’re often used in combination with other drugs. 

The final type of drug is relatively new.  It’s called a selective cholesterol absorption inhibitor.  They work to help keep cholesterol from being absorbed by the intestines – so it can’t get into the bloodstream.  These are mostly effective at lowering LDL cholesterol.

All medications carry some risks and side effects.  Speak with your doctor and pharmacist about the specific drugs that have been prescribed for you.  Make sure to make any lifestyle changes recommended for the medications and follow up with the appropriate screenings.  Medication can be a great option if lifestyle alone won’t help to reduce your cholesterol, but you must follow proper safety practices.

Understanding the Stress Test

Many medical tests provide information about your heart while it’s at rest, but it’s also important to know how well your heart works when you’re asking it to perform under heavier stress.  The stress test is designed to measure your heart when it’s working a little harder.

When you go to take the stress test, you’ll be hooked up to monitors with sensors.  These are not going to deliver electricity to you; they’ll simply measure your electrical activity.  Then you’ll be asked to walk on a treadmill. 

Gradually your pace will be increased and you may end up at a slight jog.  The treadmill will also be tilted at an incline to simulate walking or jogging uphill. While you’re performing on the treadmill, measurements of your heart rate, blood pressure, fatigue, respiration, and your heart’s electrical activity are being taken. 

When you’re finished with the test, you’re then asked to rest and measurements are continued to get an idea of your recovery. Stress tests are used to diagnose heart problems, but they’re also used to help your doctor determine a safe level of exercise for you. 

The stress test is used to determine the cause of chest pain and to predict your probability of having a heart attack.  It can give a lot of information, but it doesn’t provide a complete picture.  Depending on the results of your stress test, you may have to take further diagnostic examinations. 

Many people are intimidated by the idea of the stress test.  You should know that you can stop the test at any time if you need a break.  You’ll also be monitored by medical personnel to make sure that nothing goes wrong and to take care of any problems. 

This test is invaluable when it comes to your heart health.  It gives a much better idea of how your heart works when you’re physically active as opposed to sitting still.  This is the kind of activity that’s more likely to put a strain on your heart, so it’s important to measure it.

If your doctor prescribes a stress test, you may be asked to go to a different location.  Be prepared to spend some time at the testing facility as this test can take up to an hour.  You should also wear comfortable clothing and supportive shoes.  You should get your official results within a week, but you may be able to get a preliminary idea from the doctor who administers the test. 

Understanding Your Blood Vessels

The blood vessels in the body are often the site of cardiovascular disease.  So it’s important that you understand exactly what they are and how they work.  This can help you to understand the importance of healthy habits as well as medical screenings.  It can also help you to understand the results of medical tests.

The blood vessels in your body consist of arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules, and veins.  The arteries and arterioles carry blood that’s rich in oxygen away from the heart to the tissues of the body. 

The venules and veins carry blood that is oxygen depleted back to the heart.  The capillaries are the smallest blood vessels where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange actually takes place.

Blood vessels are made of smooth muscle cells.  They make up a network of tubes that circulate blood all over the body.  Inside these tubes are valves along the way.  The valves are designed to help the blood travel in one direction. 

The blood vessels in your body don’t actually contract and “beat.”  The pulse you feel under your skin is a result of the heart pumping.  However, blood vessels can help to control blood flow by becoming more narrow or constricting.  They can also become wider by dilating. 

We often take our blood vessels for granted, but the truth is that they’re pivotal in the progression of almost every disease that the body can contract.  For example, cancer can only continue to grow when new blood vessels are laid down in the tumor.  In heart disease, the condition of the blood vessels is pivotal. 

Over time, saturated fat and cholesterol can begin to line the interior of blood vessels and form a hard plaque.  This plaque causes blood vessels to become narrow and can eventually lead to blockages.  When this happens, the heart has to work harder to pump blood all over the body. 

Also, there are blood vessels that supply the heart with the blood it needs to do its job.  When those vessels become blocked, the result can be a heart attack.  Strokes are also the result of blood vessel blockages.

It’s important to do all you can to keep your blood vessels in good shape.  You can do this by eating a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat and fiber.  You can also help keep them in good shape by participating in regular exercise.  By making a few healthy choices, you can prevent problems with these important parts of your body.

What Is An EKG?

If you’ve been to the doctor because of heart condition or you have a family history of heart disease, you may be asked to schedule a test called an EKG or ECG.  Many people get nervous when they’re required to take medical tests, but it’s important to know that this test is not invasive and is life-saving.

EKG and ECG are abbreviations for the test called an electrocardiogram.  This test measures the electrical activity of the heart.  Whereas a stethoscope can allow a doctor to listen to the heart, the EKG lets the physician see the actual electrical wave of the heartbeat.

The heart actually beats in three types of waves.  The first wave is the P wave.  It occurs when the right and left atria beat.  These are the upper chambers of the heart that receive blood from the body or the lungs. 

The next wave is called the QRS complex and is made by the bottom chambers of the heart called ventricles.  These are the parts of the heart that pump blood away from the heart.  The final wave is called a T wave and it results in the recovery of the ventricles after they beat.

A doctor can understand a lot about the heart by looking at this pattern of waves.  The EKG will show how long it takes electrical activity to pass through the heart.  If it’s moving too fast or too slow, they can then begin to move closer to diagnosing your problem. 

The test will also show if there are specific parts of the heart that are working inefficiently by measuring how much electrical activity is present in them. When you go to have this test, some stickers will be placed around your chest near the heart. 

These will be connected to wires that are hooked to the EKG machine.  While the test is running, the machine measures your electrical activity.  Once the test is finished, the stickers are removed. 

Removal of the stickers is the most uncomfortable part of the test.  The rest is absolutely painless because the machine is not running any type of current into your body.  It’s only measuring the electrical activity inside of you.

The EKG is one of the most common tests used to diagnose problems of the heart.  When you have this test, the results may lead to a diagnosis or to further testing to pinpoint the exact problem.  Tests like an echocardiogram may be ordered.  The echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and is also painless and noninvasive.

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