Know Your Numbers—And What They Mean

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on May 27, 2019

Quick Facts

  • Weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose are key health indicators.
  • Genetics may play a role, but diet and lifestyle choices are the best way to improve your numbers. 
  • Carilion Clinic regularly offers free blood pressure and other screenings throughout our region.

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When you see your doctor and get blood drawn, do you ask about your test results?

Do you understand what the numbers mean—and how they are indicators of your health?

André Jenkins, N.P., sees many patients at Carilion Clinic Family Medicine who have high blood pressure or who are at risk for diabetes, heart disease or other chronic illness.

“We try to make them aware of what their test results mean for them,” she said.

“We also share helpful materials with patients and members of the community who take part in Carilion’s free community health screening program.”
Some of those materials mirror the following information from the American Heart Association (AHA) about key health numbers.

Weight
The AHA considers a healthy body-mass index (BMI) to be 18.6 to 24.9, with a waistline of 35 inches or less for women and 40 inches maximum for men.
 
Blood Pressure
A healthy resting blood pressure is less than 130/80 (systolic over diastolic). Ideal, though, is 120/80, according to the latest research. Any higher numbers indicate that your heart is working too hard:

  • Elevated: 120-129/80
  • Hypertension Stage 1: 130-139/80-89
  • Hypertension Stage 2: 140/90 or higher
  • Hypertensive crisis (seek medical attention immediately): 180/120

If left untreated, high blood pressure can result in hardening of the arteries, heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and blindness.

A healthy resting blood pressure is less than 130/80.

Hypertension is also called the “silent killer,” so you may not feel its damage until it’s too late.
 
Cholesterol
The AHA recommends that adults age 20 and up have their cholesterol checked every four to six years.
 
While they used to recommend total cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL, research has shown that the ratio of LDL to HDL is a more telling risk indicator for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
 
Triglycerides
A high triglyceride level—above 150 mg/dL following an 8-hour food and alcohol fast—is another risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

It can be caused by genetics or other health factors but is often due to obesity and lifestyle choices such as:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excess alcohol
  • A high-carbohydrate diet

Blood Glucose
The amount of glucose, or sugar, in your blood varies widely over the day due to what, when and how much you eat and drink.
 
When you have a blood glucose test, you'll be asked to fast for at least eight hours.

A blood glucose reading above 100 is cause for concern.

If you are tested for hemoglobin A1C, no fasting is required—it's a measurement of your blood glucose over a three-month period.

Know these numbers:

  • 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates prediabetes
  • 126 mg/dL or higher may indicate diabetes
  •  A reading over 200 indicates diabetes

Improving Your Numbers
High blood pressure, lipids and diabetes can be influenced by your genetics, health conditions, diet and lifestyle choices.
 
These lifestyle habits are recommended by Carilion Clinic’s Community Health and Outreach team:

  • Eat five to nine fruits and vegetables daily
  • Incorporate whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts into your diet
  • Reduce fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages
  • Cut salt to no more than a teaspoon daily
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active, with at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise where you may be sweating and your heart is beating fast
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to one (women) or two (men) drinks per day
  • Quit smoking

 To get your numbers tested, contact your primary care provider or visit CarilionClinic.org/calendar to find an upcoming screening near you.