You may wonder why a practice focused on obstetrics and gynecology spends so much time discussing heart health. Not only is heart disease the leading cause of death among women, but some of the risk factors for heart disease play a role in other women’s diseases, as well, and can contribute to serious complications in pregnancy. A healthy heart is a vital component of women’s healthcare.

Here are five things you should know to better understand your risk of heart disease. And once you know, you can begin to do something about it.

1. Know your family’s medical history – both sides. With this information, your provider can adjust screening recommendations for you specifically. For example, he or she may recommend that you begin cholesterol tests earlier or have them more frequently than is normally recommended if high cholesterol runs in your family.

2. Know your blood pressure. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can be hereditary or related to being overweight. Post-menopausal women also have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, as do women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills (especially if you smoke and take birth control pills). High blood pressure raises your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and atherosclerosis. Your blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmHg.

3. Know your cholesterol. Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance in your blood. If it builds up and forms plaque, it can narrow the arteries and reduce blood flow. Plaque can also cause blood clots to form that can block arteries or cause heart attacks or stroke. High cholesterol can be hereditary or caused by diet, lack of physical activity or being overweight.

Your cholesterol is measured through a blood test called a lipid panel. Your provider may ask you to fast before the test to get a more accurate reading. Your “Total Cholesterol” should be less than 200 mg/dL. LDL “Bad” Cholesterol should ideally be less than 100 mg/dL. 100 – 129 mg/dL is also considered good. HDL “Good” Cholesterol should be 50 md/dL or higher.

4. Know your BMI. BMI is a ratio of your height and weight and is one way to estimate body fat. Being overweight or obese can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. This risk is even greater if you carry a lot of your body fat around your midsection. To reduce your risk of heart disease, your BMI should be less than 25. Calculate your BMI here >

5. Know your blood sugar. If you are obese or have a family history of diabetes, you should know your blood sugar. Women with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die of heart disease. Blood sugar is determined through a blood test called a fasting glucose test. Your blood sugar should be less than 100 mg/dL.

We care about you – and your heart! Your Women’s Healthcare Associates provider can provide tips on preventing heart disease and help you better understand your risk in any of these areas. Ask at your next women’s wellness exam >

Test your knowledge: take the Scripps heart health quiz for women >

Sources: Image: SparkPeople. Other: Scope