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October 2014

Learn how knowing your numbers may save your life.

Diabetes. Heart disease. Obesity. Hypertension. Americans are facing these health threats at epidemic levels, and many of them may not even know it. In fact, cardiovascular disease continues to be the biggest killer of both men and women in the nation, with half of all adults having at least one key risk factors of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a smoking habit.

Simple screening tools help patients and their providers evaluate common factors linked to the above conditions. These screenings often include: blood pressure, cholesterol (blood lipid profile), BMI (body mass index) and blood sugar (glucose),

Each screening provides a number that is really much more than number. For example, high blood pressure is a common factor in heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney failure. What makes this of even greater concern is the fact that one in three American adults have high blood pressure.

While these numbers don't definitively diagnose a disease or confirm perfect health, they are helpful indicators of an individual's general health status.  These numbers can:

  • let people know if they are on the right track
  • offer context of individual results compared to recommended "normal" numbers
  • help providers evaluate a patient's health risks
  • indicate lifestyle changes
  • lead to needed health management
  • result in life-saving treatment

Understanding Your Numbers

While most people are aware of these common screenings and have been screened from time to time, many do not know the meaning behind their results.  Here's a brief explanation (goal numbers  are only estimates and may vary by age and health status):

Blood Pressure: Includes two important numbers: Systolic pressure (the top number) measures blood pressure against artery walls when the heart pumps out; diastolic pressure measures the same pressure between heartbeats, as your heart fills with blood. Goal: Below 120/80.

Cholesterol: Includes three different numbers: HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglycerides ( a common type of fat associated with atherosclerosis). Goal: HDL over 60; LDL under 100.

BMI (Body Mass Index): Calculated using height and weight. Goal: Between 18.5 and 24.9. BMI works as a general recommendation for most Americans, but does not account for different shapes, muscle variation, age and activity level. Your provider can make individual recommendations in consideration of these other factors.

Blood sugar: Numbers vary based on fasting or non-fasting tests. Goal: Fasting (no food for eight hours) should be between 70 and 99. Two hours after eating should be less than 140. If too high, these numbers can raise a red flag for diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Getting Screened

Your primary care provider is your best source for these screening tools, as he or she can offer individualized recommendations, order further testing or offer treatment when needed. Your provider can also recommend the frequency of each screening with consideration for your age, past results, health changes, heredity and other factors.

"It's important to make an appointment for annual wellness check or physical with a primary care provider, because these tests won't all be automatically included during outpatient visits for other reasons," said Mark Gedden, DO, a family practice physician at Monroe Clinic-New Glarus. "By knowing these numbers and understanding what can done about them, patients can make positive changes that take them off the path to stroke, diabetes or a heart attack and put them on track for a better, longer life."

The inactivated virus in the flu shot cannot give you the flu.

Even though flu shots have been given for many years, there is still plenty of misinformation surrounding the vaccine.  Here are some of the common myths and the facts behind them.

1) The flu vaccine can give you the flu. False.

The flu shot is made with a) an inactivated virus that cannot be infectious or b) no viruses at all. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.

The nasal spray vaccine is made with a weakened virus that cannot cause the flu and cannot exist in the warmer temperatures of the lungs.  The nasal spray's most commonly reported side effects are mild and include runny nose, nasal congestion and cough.

2) You can still get the flu even if you were vaccinated. True.

The vaccine is your best source of flu prevention; however, you can still become ill if:

a) you are infected by a strain not  included in the vaccine,

b) you are exposed to the flu virus before being vaccinated or during the two-week period your body needs to develop immunity after vaccination,

c) you are infected by a different illness that causes flu-like symptoms, or

d) you get the flu. While the vaccine is your best chance at prevention and greatly decreases your risk, it doesn't provide 100% guaranteed protection against the flu, especially in those have weakened immune systems.

"This is why good hygiene practices, including covering your cough, washing hands and limiting contact with others when ill, is so important even with the help of powerful tools like the flu vaccine," said Elisabeth Anumu, MD, Family Practice physician at Monroe Clinic-Lena.

3) It is better to get the flu than the flu vaccine. False.

While many people can recover from the flu in under 2 weeks, others will develop flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, or a severe worsening of chronic health problems. People with asthma or heart problems can experience serious symptoms when infected with the flu.  In turn, this can lead to hospitalizations or even death. Young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health problems are most at risk for flu-related complications, especially if unvaccinated.

4) If you don't get vaccinated early in the fall, it's not worth get vaccinated at all. False.

Yes, it's best to get vaccinated early in the flu season, when you can reap the most benefits of its protection. However, the flu season usually peaks in January or February most years, and it can occur as late as May.

5) There are people who should not get the flu vaccine. True.

Due to certain allergies and specific illnesses (such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome), some people should not get vaccinated. Also, people should not get vaccinated while they are experiencing respiratory illness or fever.

Infants younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, yet they are too young to get a flu vaccine. However, studies show vaccinating pregnant women helped provide protection to the baby after birth and prevent hospitalization.

 "The fact that some people cannot get the vaccine makes the vaccination of those around them all the more important. Getting vaccinated not only helps protect your health. It may be protecting the health of your child, grandparent or other vulnerable populations," said Dr. Anumu.