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First Coast Connect: Knowing Your Heart Disease Risk


February is American Heart Month, and Baptist Health is joining with the American Heart Association for its “Little Hats, Big Hearts” campaign, where mothers at each Baptist hospital in Jacksonville receive a red hat for their baby to raise awareness of heart disease.


“It’s to raise awareness for the mothers too, that the number one health risk is heart disease, and you know parents have the biggest influence in steering their children to the right heart healthy habits,” said Dr. Pamela Rama, cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists and past president of the First Coast Division of the American Heart Association.


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, accounting for more than 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.


About 2,200 Americans die each day from these diseases, or one every 40 seconds.


Dr. Rama discussed some steps people can take to reduce risk Monday on “First Coast Connect.” One is “knowing your numbers,” including blood pressure, cholesterol level, body mass index and blood sugar.


“The optimal blood pressure really is 120 over 80,” Dr. Rama said. “You want your blood sugar to be less than 100. You want your BMI to be 25. And you want your good cholesterol to be over 45 and your bad cholesterol to be less than 100.”


Dr. Rama said, “You can reduce your lifetime risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 80 percent just by implementing lifestyle changes, which is eating healthy, not smoking and exercising.”


She acknowledges people have to work against genetics sometimes, as “70 percent of your cholesterol is genetic, 30 percent diet.”


But she said that lifestyle changes “can do it for you — it's not a life sentence because you have a family history.”


An increasingly used test to assess if someone is at higher risk is the coronary calcium test, a brief CT scan of the heart to look for calcium build up. A calcium score of zero indicates low risk, and a calcium score of more than 400 indicates high risk for heart disease.


“If you have a score of zero, the likelihood that you will have a cardiac event in 10 to 15 years is less than 1 percent,” Rama said. “The bad side is, if you have the score of even 1, it means that you have coronary heart disease. Then you score it depending on how high your score is, your risk increases as well.”


News Intern Joy Kader can be reached at or on Twitter at @joykader95.