Courtesy of Ryan O'Niel via Unsplash

With pink and red hearts adorning store shelves in celebration of Valentine’s Day, they also can serve as a reminder of heart health — after all, February is American Heart Month.

Dr. Susie Woo is a cardiologist at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. She specializes in heart failure management, cardiovascular risk assessment, echocardiography, and diagnostic cardiology.

As a cardiologist, she’s passionate about helping patients manage their heart health, and prevent heart failure.

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to heart disease, Woo said. The most common understandings include the idea that it affects men more than women, and that those affected are typically people who are obese and have “unhealthy” lifestyles.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.,” she said. “So, this idea that it’s a men’s disease is completely untrue. It affects both men and women.”

Woo said people living traditionally healthy lifestyles are just as susceptible to heart disease as anyone else, adding that genetics play a big factor.

“I’ve had patients who think if they do everything right (healthy diet and exercise) that they can completely avoid heart problems. And while a healthy lifestyle can and will help reduce a person’s risk for heart issues, it doesn’t guarantee you won’t have issues ever. Genetics play a huge role in whether a person will have problems,” Woo said.

But prevention is still key. Woo recommends people maintain a balanced diet, exercise about 150 minutes a week, and see their doctor regularly.

Common symptoms of heart disease include shortness of breath, chest discomfort with exercise, fatigue, persistent coughing or wheezing, buildup of excess fluid in body tissues, and low appetite.

Woo concluded that it’s important that everyone “know their numbers.”

Know Your Numbers

Blood Pressure: A healthy blood pressure is around 130/80. A score of 120/80 is ideal, but 140/90 is normal for most people.

Blood Sugar: A healthy blood sugar (glycosylated hemoglobin) should be between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent.

Non-HDL Cholesterol: should be below 130 mg/dL.

Body Weight: A person’s ideal body weight varies by gender, age, height, and frame. An average healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 18.6 and 24.9.

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