Despite growing awareness that heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the U.S., many women still don't know they are at risk.

Despite growing awareness that heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the U.S., many women still don't know they are at risk.

To ensure you're aware of the potential danger, Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of the Women's Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Ohio State University Medical Center and assistant professor of clinical medicine, has suggested five questions to ask your doctor.

"Regardless of your gender, you have to be your own advocate," Mehta said. "Knowing your own health numbers and what they mean makes a big difference. It helps you ask better questions of your physicians as well as to make the appropriate lifestyle choices."

What can I do about high blood pressure?

Living with high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease. But unless you make routine visits to your doctor or have an emergency, you're unlikely to know your numbers, and what you need to do to lower them. In most cases, changing lifestyle factors-such as managing sodium intake, improving diet, losing weight and getting more exercise-can help bring blood pressure into the normal range. Medication may also be required.

What can I do about high cholesterol?LDL, or "bad," cholesterol builds up in arteries over time, and people with high LDL levels have no obvious symptoms, so it's important to be tested. If it's high, learning how to read food labels to avoid saturated and trans fats, cooking more healthfully or taking cholesterol-reducing drugs can help. Do I have diabetes or am I pre-diabetic?Get tested. It's important for people with diabetes to have consistent medical attention to keep their blood sugar under control. "Diabetics are prone to develop atherosclerosis," Mehta said, "which can lead to blockages in the coronary arteries." What is my risk of developing heart disease?Besides the critical components already mentioned, other factors also weigh into your risk, including family history, age, whether you smoke and your activity level. What's the appropriate heart-healthy lifestyle?Limiting carbohydrates, sugars and sodium while increasing high-fiber and whole-grain foods is important, Mehta said. Also good: eating baked, grilled, steamed and poached foods (instead of fried); drinking lower-fat milk; and eating more fruits and vegetables. As for physical activity, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a day is the general recommendation for women (60 to 90 minutes if you're trying to lose weight).

For more about healthy lifestyle choices, check the Go Red for Women website, www.goredforwomen.com , part of an American Heart Association campaign that aims to reduce women's risk of heart disease and stroke by 25 percent by 2010.