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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

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Tests That Can Help Protect Your Heart Health
Ask your doctor to give you these tests. Each one will give you valuable information about your heart disease risk.

Lipoprotein Profile
What: A blood test that measures total cholesterol, HDL or "good" cholesterol, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood. The test is given after a 9- to 12-hour fast.

Why: To find out if you have any of the following: high blood cholesterol (high total and LDL cholesterol), low HDL cholesterol, or high triglyceride levels. All affect your risk for heart disease.

When: All healthy adults should have their blood cholesterol levels checked at least once every 5 years. Depending on the results, your doctor may want to repeat the test more frequently.

Blood Pressure
What: A simple, painless test using an inflatable cuff on the arm.

Why: To find out if you have high blood pressure (also called hypertension) or prehypertension. Both are risk factors for heart disease.

When: At least every 2 years, or more often if you have high blood pressure or prehypertension.

Fasting Plasma Glucose
What: The preferred test for diagnosing diabetes. After you have fasted overnight, you will get a blood test the following morning.

Why: To find out if you have diabetes or are likely to develop the disease. Fasting plasma glucose levels of more than 126 mg/dL on two tests on different days mean that you have diabetes. Levels between 100 and 125 mg/dL mean you have an increased risk for diabetes and may have prediabetes. Diabetes is an important risk factor for heart disease and other medical disorders.

When: At least every 3 years, beginning at age 45. If you have risk factors for diabetes, you should be tested at a younger age and more often.

Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist Circumference
What: BMI is a measure of your weight in relation to your height. Waist circumference is a measure of the fat around your middle.

Why: To find out whether your body type raises your risk of heart disease. A BMI of 25 or higher means you are overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher means you are obese. Both over weight and obesity are risk factors for heart disease. For women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches increases the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions.

When: Every 2 years, or more often if your doctor recommends it.

Other Tests
There also are several tests that can determine whether you already have heart disease. Ask your doctor whether you need a stress test, an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), or another diagnostic test. (See "Screening Tests".)


Here is a quick quiz to find out your risk of a heart attack.

Yes  No  Don't
Do you smoke?
Is your blood pressure 140/90 mmHg or higher, OR have you been told by your doctor that your blood pressure is too high?
Has your doctor told you that your LDL ("bad") cholesterol is too high, OR that your total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or higher, OR that your HDL ("good") cholesterol 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? (To find out, see BMI chart.)
Do you get less than a total of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days? Has a doctor told you that you have angina (chest pains), OR have you had a heart attack?

If you checked any of the "yes" boxes, you're at an increased risk of having a heart attack. If you checked "don't know" for any questions, ask your doctor for help in answering them. Read on to learn what you can do to lower your risk.

Table of Contents Next: Major Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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