Keep tabs on these numbers for better heart health.
When you play a more active role in your treatment for a chronic illness like heart failure, you’re more likely to have better outcomes. This includes building a good relationship with your doctor, sticking to your treatment, and actively monitoring your condition. One of the ways you can monitor your heart failure is by keeping tabs on some key heart health numbers.
Knowing your numbers means being aware of various health measurements. For example, if you know your blood pressure is elevated, you can set goals and create a plan to lower that number. Then, you can track how your blood pressure changes over time. In other words, knowing your numbers may help you improve your heart failure outcomes.
Numbers to Know for Managing Heart Failure
1. Ejection fraction
Ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood that gets pumped out of the left ventricle of your heart with each beat. A healthy ejection fraction is between 50 and 70 percent. This helps ensure that you’re getting adequate blood flow throughout the body.
When ejection fraction is low (especially below 40 percent), the reduced blood flow can lead to more heart failure symptoms. The lower the ejection fraction, the more likely you are to have severe symptoms (like shortness of breath) even when you’re sitting or lying in bed.
Ejection fraction shouldn’t be too high, either. When more than 75 percent of the blood in the left ventricle gets pumped out with each beat, it can lead to a blockage. Basically, the emptiness in the ventricle can cause the chamber walls to slam together as it beats.
2. Blood pressure
Ideally, your blood pressure should be less than 120 over less than 80. When blood pressure is higher than that, it may strain the heart. If you have heart failure, your heart is already struggling, so high blood pressure can worsen your condition. Your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle changes and/or medicines if your blood pressure is very high.
Low blood pressure is usually not a big problem unless you are having symptoms like dizziness.
When there’s too much cholesterol in your blood, this waxy substance can start to build up on artery walls. Cholesterol hardens to plaque over time, which is hard and brittle. This can narrow and stiffen your arteries.
High cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, which is one of the risk factors for heart failure. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor will usually suggest lifestyle changes and/or medicines (like statins) to bring those numbers down.
4. Body mass index
Body mass index (BMI) is an important number for managing heart failure. Your BMI is basically a way of measuring your weight in relation to your height. A high BMI (obesity) may force the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. Again, heart failure already makes the heart work harder, so obesity may make your heart failure worse.
Getting Help with Your Heart Health
Playing an active role in your treatment does not mean you have to do it all alone. You and your doctor (or doctors) are a team. If you’re having trouble understanding your numbers, interpreting what they mean for your health, or sticking to plans to improve them, talk to your doctor. They are there to help you understand this information and empower you to live the best life possible.
Marrick Kukin, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.
- Causes of heart failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on July 28, 2021)
- Medications used to treat heart failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on July 28, 2021)
- Overview of the management of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction in adults. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2021. (Accessed on July 28, 2021)