LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A new American Heart Association report finds nearly half of Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure.
Many wrongly assume that they understand what a normal reading is. Doctors say it's about time people get a refresher course about the numbers that can save their lives.
"I didn't think that I was heart attack material," said Rob Hastings of Big Bear..
At 52, Hastings suffered a massive heart attack six months ago. He thought it was something else.
"I started to get a really sharp pain in my chest and I was wondering if it was indigestion," he said.
Hastings was airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center where interventional cardiologists cleared his arteries and saved his life.
"I had a total of five blockages," said Hastings.
The signs were all there, he just didn't read them.
"I had really denied my high cholesterol for too long and my high blood pressure," he said.
"Heart disease is the number one killer," said Dr. Pooja Swamy, an assistant professor of Medicine Interventional Cardiology at Loma Linda University Health
Swamy said every five minutes someone has a cardiac event. Most can be prevented.
"There are some very easy numbers that we can look at," she said.
First, monitor your blood pressure regularly. Aim for 120 over 80. If you've been hovering above that level for a while, Swamy said to definitely seek attention and get help with your primary care provider.
For cholesterol, she said, the "L " in LDL stands for "the lower the better."
"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get this level less than 70 especially if you've had a stent or a bypass," she said.
While emerging data reveals raising HDL is not as important as lowering LDL, 60 is what's recommended for this so-called "good cholesterol." And cutting out junk food can help get your triglycerides down to 60.
High blood sugar is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Swamy said check your HbA1c level with your doctor. A score of 5.6 to 6.4%c signals pre-diabetes.
"A number of 6.5 percent or more determines that you do have diabetes," she said.
All these metrics work together; you work on improving one the others will follow. Body mass index is another. Swamy said a BMI of 25 and above doesn't just mean a wider waistline, it can lead to serious disease.
"Not just heart blockages, but also having heart failure and an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation," she said.
If you are between 40 and 75, Swamy recommends an Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease Risk Assessment. It calculates your 10-year risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
"Knowing your numbers is certainly important," Hastings said.
Offering guidance is a big part of his job as a church pastor. Now with every metric heading in the right direction, Hastings leads by example
"Even if you're younger, you need to really pay attention to the signs and pay attention to your health," he said.